Gerber Life Family Times --- News and tips for familes of all ages and stages of life

When the Sun Isn't Fun  
With summer just ahead, learn some of the hazards of sun exposure for kids, and some tips for protecting their skin.


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Gerber Life Family Times Archive

HealthYou can almost feel it—those warm rays of the summer sun on your skin. Before long, we'll be greeted with perfect weather for outdoor family fun including biking, hiking, swimming, picnicking and just general lounging around in the sun. With all of that outdoor activity there comes the chance of overexposure to the sun and an inevitable sunburn for someone in your family. As anyone who has ever experienced sunburn can attest to, the experience isn't pleasant. As the sun begins to set and the temperature cools slightly, the sunburn begins to show its ugly side. Your skin feels tight, extremely hot, and becomes painfully sensitive to touch. Combined with the accompanying burning and stinging, the experience of a sunburn is something everyone is better off avoiding.

As uncomfortable and painful as sunburn can be for an adult, the experience takes on an additional concern when it comes to children. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, children get more than half of their lifetime sun exposure before the age of 18 and effective sun protection throughout childhood can decrease the risk of future skin cancer by 80 percent. The Foundation adds that while most people know that sun exposure can cause cancer, few realize that even a mild sunburn suppresses the entire body's immune system, which can make a child more vulnerable to infections.

HealthSo where does the problem begin? Those warm rays of sun are composed of two types of invisible rays—ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) that are responsible for the short and long term damage to your skin. According to the Library of Congress (LOC), UVA is the longest wavelength and is not absorbed by the earth's ozone layer. It penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB, which is partially blocked by the ozone layer but is responsible for sunburns. For those who wish to be outside in the sun without being covered from head to foot, sunscreen is an effective means of protection. The LOC notes that sunscreens use inorganic ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium oxide to reflect or scatter UV radiation while organic ingredients such as octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) or oxybenzone absorb UV radiation, dissipating it as heat.

When buying sunscreen, the label will indicate the SPF (sun protection factor) present in the product. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that most people benefit from sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or greater. The SPF number provides you with an idea of how long you can stay in the sun without burning. If you burn in 10 minutes without sunscreen, a liberal application of sunscreen with SPF 15 should protect you from sunburn for 150 minutes. The FTC adds that while sunscreens with SPF provide protection from UVB rays, no sunscreen provides full protection from all UVA rays.

To maximize the effectiveness of sunscreen and minimize the sun's effects on the skin, the FTC recommends the following:

  • Liberally apply the sunscreen (at least one large handful) to the skin about 30 minutes prior to going outside in the sun. Remember that swimming, vigorous activity that causes sweating, and toweling off will remove sunscreen from the skin—so reapplication is necessary in those instances.
  • If your child is attending camp or day care, discuss sunscreen application with those in charge and make sure sunscreen is reapplied after swimming, hard play, or when perspiring.
  • Apply sunscreen to a child's skin even if they are under an umbrella, as the sun's rays can reflect off the surrounding concrete or sand.
  • Use water-resistant sunscreens that protect from both UVA and UVB rays and carry an SPF number of at least 15.

HealthIn addition, the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF) recommends that when choosing a sunscreen, you should to a "patch" test by placing a small amount of sunscreen on the inside of your child's wrist the day before planned usage to test for irritation or allergies. If irritation or rash develops, try another product or ask your doctor to recommend one that will not irritate the skin. The SCF adds that:

  • Sunscreen should not be used on babies under six months of age (they should be exposed to the sun as little as possible).
  • A cream or lotion product may be less drying to young skin than gel- or alcohol-based products.
  • Don't forget to apply sunscreen to your child's hands, ears, nose, lips, area around the eyes, and tops of feet and toes. Zinc oxide can provide extra protection on the nose and ears and lip balms with SPF should be applied to the lips.

Additional sun protection tips from the FTC include:

  • Limit sun exposure between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm when the sun's rays are strongest. Schedule your outdoor activities during non-peak hours.
  • Clothing also provides sun protection for children. Use hats with brims that are tightly woven and long sleeved shirts and pants for the best protection from the sun. Some clothing tags will indicate the garment's protection level by stating an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) value. The higher the UPF value, the greater the UV protection the garment provides.
  • Choose sunglasses that screen out both UVA and UVB rays. Sunglasses that are close fitting and have big lenses provide more protection.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) adds that unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun's UV rays in as little as 15 minutes but it may take up to 12 hours for the skin to show the full effect of the exposure. If you're child's skin is "a little pink", they should limit additional sun exposure to prevent further damage. The CDC also notes that even if it's cool and cloudy, children still need sun protection since the clouds do not block UV rays.

So don't be afraid of the sun—educate yourself and your family, use preventative measures, and enjoy your time outdoors this summer!

As with any health matters, consult with your family physician concerning any specific questions or concerns regarding sun exposure and sunburns.

Federal Trade Commission—
Skin Cancer Foundation—
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—
Library of Congress—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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