Soaking Up the Sun – What You Can Do to Protect Yourselves and Your Children

Mother and Daughter at the BeachFor many folks in the United States, spring cannot get here soon enough.  Between torrential rain storms, late winter storms, and generally below average temperatures, American families are eager to get outdoors.

But even if temperatures are a little cooler than what you’d typically expect as this time of year, it’s still important to use precautions when you’re outdoors.  Cooler temperatures and even overcast, cloudy skies in no way indicate that your family is safe from sun damage.  And for children, the precautions are especially necessary.

The younger the child is, the thinner his or her skin is.  This means that they are at greater risk for over exposure.  Couple that with the fact that young children do not produce as much melanin and your children have the potential for suffering serious damage.

What are some things you can do to prevent your children from suffering?

1.  Have your child wear a hat.  Even if your child has a lot of hair, the scalp is especially susceptible and can burn easily.  If the hat is large enough to shade the face and ears, that’s even better.

2.  Protective clothing is essential.  Make sure that the clothing is comfortable and breathes.  It is recommended that the clothing not be too sheer, because the sun’s rays will still be able to penetrate.

3.  Choose a shady area.  If you have access to a pavilion or other structure, take advantage of that.  If you will be enjoying a picnic at a park, try to find a large tree that offers plenty of shade.  When we attend outdoor sporting events, we pack a portable tent structure that offers shade.  If you will be at the beach, a large umbrella or portable cabana will work.

4.  Limit the amount of time you spend outdoors.  Small children don’t need to spend much time outdoors in order to burn.  And even if they are in water or there is a cool breeze, they are still soaking up the damaging rays.  Don’t let their “comfort level” in terms of temperature fool you.

5.  Use a safe sunscreen on all exposed areas.   Apply generously and often (especially if they are in water or sweating).

There have been mixed messages in terms of what SPF (sun protection factor) is the best.  Some will argue that the higher the number, the better the protection.  Others will argue that the higher numbers don’t offer any more protection that their lower number counterparts.

What is important is what to look for in terms of ingredients.  According to the New Zealand Dermatology Society, sun protection is delivered in two ways:  chemical absorbers and physical blockers.

If you look at the list of ingredients, you will notice words containing “benzone”.  Many sunscreens use these chemicals because they are said to offer complete protection against damage from UVB and UVA II rays and partial protection against UVA I rays.  But notice they offer protection against damage.  The way these chemicals work is that they absorb the radiation before damage is caused.

Although this sounds like a good form of protection, these chemicals have been linked to forms of cancer and assorted skin problems because they are absorbed easily into the pores of the skin.  If fact, Proposition 65 in California lists chemicals and ingredients that are known to cause cancer.  Benzophenone (oxybenzone) has been added to that list.

Physical blockers, on the other hand, protect differently.  When the sun’s rays hit these blockers, the rays are reflected back (or bounced off) the skin.  They are typically not absorbed by the skin and they offer protection against the full UV spectrum.  The ingredients to look for are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  Physical blockers are considered the ideal sun protection because they are safe and do not typically pose a health risk.

Our family loves the sun and being outdoors as much as possible.  But sunburn is no picnic and we have seen the damaging effects of the sun’s rays on family and friends.  So by all means, get outdoors and enjoy the weather while you can.  A few extra precautions will help you to enjoy all that spring and summer has to offer.

10 responses to “Soaking Up the Sun – What You Can Do to Protect Yourselves and Your Children

  1. This is some awesome information. I didn’t have any idea there were certain ingredients that we needed in sunscreen. Thank you Penny! I needed this one., :)

  2. I am so glad you clarified between the two kinds. It can be so confusing. I typically buy the kind that is a lotion rather than a spray because I can be sure where it lands but mostly because of Luke’s eczema. The spray stuff burns him so much. I will be sure to check the ingredients on the stuff we have! As always, you have taught me a ton Penny!

  3. We make sure to slather our kidlets and often when outside. Since my kids are both fair I require them to wear hats and they wear at least short sleeves.

    • Always a good idea to wear the hats. Now that I’m older, I see the effects of sun damage on my friends and it’s alarming how many people I know with melanoma. Thanks for commenting!!

  4. This is something I struggle with. When it comes to Grace, I slather her up with Badger until she looks like a white, greasy ghost, but I am awful about using sunscreen on myself. I just want a little sunkissed glow so that I don’t frighten people away with my white legs!!

    • I can totally understand that Lana. The sun is not as evil as some make it out to be. I just think it’s important that people use common sense and put the RIGHT type of product on the skin. White, greasy ghost – so cute and funny!!

  5. These are great tips for all of us since summer is right around the corner! You really can’t be too careful when it comes to protecting your skin or your children’s from the sun!

    • Thanks Jennifer. People need to just use common sense and know the difference between a helpful and one that’s potentially harmful. If we just take a few precautions, we should be able to get out and enjoy the sun!!

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