How can I protect my family from the sun

By Ayesha Ahmad Anwar, MD, FAAP

As a pediatrician, every summer, I get questions from parents worried about sun exposure and the effects it will have on their children. While it’s important for children and adults to spend time playing and being active outdoors, it’s also important to do it safely. Having just a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk for skin cancer later in life. Kid’s don’t have to be at the pool, beach, or on vacation to get too much sun exposure. Their skin needs protection on a daily basis whenever they are outdoors.

Here are 5 important sun safety tips to help minimize risk:

  1. Seek shade. UV rays are strongest and most harmful between the hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, so it’s best to plan indoor activities then. When outdoors, seek shade under a tree, an umbrella, a pop-up tent, or a stroller canopy. Keep babies under 6 months of age out of direct sunlight.
  2. Cover up. Dress your children in cool, comfortable clothes that cover the body, such as lightweight cotton pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats. Select clothes with a tight weave because they protect better. If you’re not sure how tight a fabric’s weave is, hold it up to see how much light shines through. The less light, the better. Also remember that dry clothes protect better than wet clothes, and dark colored clothing protects better than light colored clothing.
  3. Get a hat. Wear a hat with an all-around 3 inch brim to shield the face, scalp, ears, and neck. If your child chooses a baseball cap, be sure to protect their exposed areas, like ears and neck, with sunscreen.
  4. Wear sunglasses. They protect your child’s eyes from the UV rays which can lead to cataracts later in life. Look for sunglasses that wrap around and have at least 99% UV protection.
  5. Apply sunscreen. Use sunscreen that says “broad-spectrum,” which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for an SPF of at least 15 and up to 50. An SPF of 15-30 should be fine for most people. For best protection, apply generously 15-30 minutes before going outdoors. Don’t forget to protect the ears, nose, and tops of feet. For babies younger than 6 months, use sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face, if protective clothing and shade are not available. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, especially after swimming and sweating. Remember that you can sunburn even on cloudy days. Use extra caution near water and sand as they reflect UV rays and may result in sunburn more quickly.

Ayesha Ahmad Anar, MD is a pediatrician in Grand Prairie

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