Get Savvy About Your Kids' Sun Care

Healthnotes Newswire (June 4, 2009)—Kids love to play outside in sparkling sunshine at the beach, backyard, or playground—and that’s a good thing. But they also need protection from ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in sunlight. Experts agree that 80% of sun damage to skin occurs before age 18. It’s people’s sun exposure in their early years that determines their skin cancer risk later in life, which means it’s never too soon to start protecting kids from the sun.

Learn the basics of sun protection for kids

Become a “sun savvy” parent by learning about sun protection and teaching good sun care habits to your children. Young skin is delicate and easily burned so all children, no matter whether they tan easily or not, should be protected from overexposure to sunlight.

• Protect babies under 12 months from any direct sunlight.

• Limit sun exposure between 10 AM and 4 PM when rays are most intense.

• Apply sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of at least 15 (SPF15), which blocks 93% of harmful UVB (short wave ultraviolet B rays); reapply every two hours and after swimming to maintain protection.

• Look for “broad spectrum” sunscreens with avobenzone, a chemical doctors consider highly effective in absorbing both long and short wave ultraviolet radiation.

• Dress children in hats and tightly woven, loose clothing with long sleeves when they play outside.

• Put long-sleeved t-shirts over bathing suits, or buy bathing suits with built-in sunscreen; change into dry clothes after swimming since wet clothing loses half its UVR protection.

• Choose wrap-around sunglasses for kids that filter out UVR; these don’t need to be expensive, but don’t use toy sunglasses—be sure they have a filter.

• Remember the shadow rule: If your shadow is longer than you are tall, you probably can’t burn in the sun; if it’s shorter than you are, you can.

Take simple steps to establish a daily sun protection routine

Start with easy, everyday steps to teach kids the importance of sun protection and make them as routine as brushing teeth. “We make it part of our “getting-ready game,” says Rebecca Staffel of Seattle, Washington, mother of eight-year-old Meg. “She now puts on sunscreen all by herself in the morning.”

• Apply sunscreen first thing in the morning when getting dressed, or 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, so it can dry and set.

• Apply sunscreen to all parts of the body, including ears, eyelids, shoulders, and tops of feet. Try a spray sunscreen to make application extra easy and fast.

• Pack sunscreen and lip balm sunscreen in your child’s backpack for reapplying during the day.

Also keep in mind that eating an antioxidant-rich diet offers some natural sun protection for the eyes. A recent study associated high lifetime sunlight exposure with age-related macular degeneration in people who do not get adequate amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, and zeaxanthin, and found that people who do get enough of these antioxidants were protected.

Don’t forget the D

Keep your sun protection in perspective by remembering that sun exposure is still the classic source of vitamin D—a vitamin essential to building strong bones and muscles, and which has even been shown to protect against pancreatic cancer and to reduce the risk of falling later in life. The increase in the use of sunscreen and the avoidance of sun exposure have resulted in widespread vitamin D–deficiency. A moderate amount of sunlight exposure is beneficial—it’s regular, excessive amounts that are dangerous.

For those who avoid the sun completely because they aren’t able to safely regulate exposure or due to concerns about skin cancer, vitamin D supplements are also an option.

Judith Dern is a veteran of national consumer public relations agency programs for both commodity board food products and branded manufactured foods. She is coauthor of The Sustainable Kitchen: Passionate Cooking Inspired by Fields, Farms and Oceans (2004, New Society Publishers). Her articles have appeared in publications such as Relish, Cooking Light, Seattle Homes & Lifestyles, Northwest Palate, and Woman’s Day Special Interest Christmas Publications. She has also served as copywriter and ghostwriter on several cookbooks and has written on food for regional and national organizations. A member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), she was awarded the Harry A. Bell Grant for Food Writers in 2003.

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