The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Health & Family

May 17, 2012

Sarah Coyne: Teach kids to enjoy sun safely

JOPLIN, Mo. — Somewhere between the close of the school year and the first day playing in the sprinkler, I remember: We should’ve worn sunscreen all spring. The fresh air and cool temperatures lull me into forgetting that the sun’s rays aren’t dependent upon daytime heat to cause damage; they only need direct angles and time.  

With long summer days ahead of us and hours spent playing in the sun, it’s the perfect time to refocus on the health of our skin. And it’s the perfect time to teach our kids about how to protect themselves. We don’t need to frighten them with statistics, but the truth is that skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States, with one million new cases each year. Since it’s also one of the most preventable types of cancer, it’s important for our children to learn the correct ways to stay safe.  

Here are some easy ways to enjoy the summer sun without risking the health of our children’s skin.

  • Limit direct sunlight between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you’re going outside for more than 15 minutes, do so when the angle of the sun’s rays aren’t direct. Stay in the shade until your shadow is taller than you are. Early mornings and late afternoons and evenings are safest.
  • Cover exposed skin. Clothing provides some protection, but only if it’s made with tightly woven fabrics. Children’s faces are protected with large-rimmed hats, but only if the little ones are comfortable enough to be left alone. Consider making a hat rule: As soon as the hat is abandoned, so are the outdoors.
  • Apply sunscreen. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, and remember sunscreen is only effective if used correctly. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends applying sunscreen to dry skin at least 15 minutes before sun exposure, to allow the chemicals plenty of time to bind and absorb. Reapply every two hours or after every 30 to 40 minutes of swimming.
  • Beware of reflected rays. White surfaces can reflect up to 80 percent of the sun’s rays. So, if you’ll be lounging in the shade near white surfaces such as sand, snow or white buildings, sunscreen is still important.
  • Don’t be seasonally complacent. The sun’s rays are just as damaging in the cool months of the year as they are in the summer. Let this season’s habits give way to a yearlong reminder to use sunscreen every day.
  • Talk to your child’s doctor about ways to maintain a healthy level of vitamin D. While 15 to 20 minutes of direct sunlight a few times a week is usually enough for consistent vitamin D production, much more than that can be harmful. Consider dietary supplements if you’re concerned.
  • Be a good example. If your kids see you being consistent and careful with your skin’s sun protection, they’ll feel as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. Show them how to apply sunscreen and remind them to grab their sunglasses.

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Health & Family