Fun in the Sun

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As you know the days are getting longer and the weather is finally getting warmer. After a few months of having to stay inside because of the cooler weather, children are wanting to be outside in the glorious sunshine where they can play and learn. We all need some sun exposure as it is a good source of vitamin D. This vitamin helps the body to absorb calcium which is needed for strong and healthy bones.

There are many things that a child can learn while playing outside as it is a great place for exploration. So being outside for a child is a wonderful thing, with our supervision of course. Part of that supervision is to make sure that they are safe while they are playing in the sun. There are estimates that 80% of our lifetime exposure to the sun happens during the childhood years before 18. It is also said that only one blistering sunburn can increase the chances of having melanoma later in life. Skin that is unprotected can be damaged by the UV rays in as little as 15 minutes even though it may take up to 12 hours for you see the full effect of the sun exposure. In other words, your child’s skin may look a little bit pink today but be burned by tomorrow. Tans look good on us but tanned skin is damaged skin.

The body produces melanin which helps to absorb the UV rays before they do serious damage to the skin. Melanin is found in different concentrations and colors which results in the different skin colors. The lighter the skin, the less melanin which means the less protection against UV rays. The darker the skin, the more melanin resulting in more protection. However, just because your child may have darker skin does not mean that they do not need protection from the UV rays. Skin damage can still occur.

Here are some tips that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Dermatology suggest that will help to protect our children:

Limit the time outdoors.  Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the sun’s rays are the strongest. Try to avoid letting your child be outside during that time. If they must be outside playing during that time, make sure that they are wearing sunscreen. Remember even on cloudy days, the sun’s ultraviolet rays are strong and can cause sunburn. Clouds do not block the UV rays they only filter them. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that infants under 6 months of age be kept out of the sun, their skin is very sensitive and sunscreen should not be used.

Apply sunscreen properly. Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and both UVA and UVB protection. Make sure to apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before your child goes outside to play. Make sure to remember ears, nose, neck, hands and feet. Lips can blister too so don’t forget to apply a lip balm with SPF protections. Reapply the sunscreen every 2-3 hours and after swimming even if the sunscreen says that it is waterproof or water-resistant.

Cover up.  Protective clothing and hats are important ways of lessening UV damage. Light colored clothing may make us feel cooler but when they are wet, they can help in the absorption of sunlight just as bare skin does. When possible, have your child wear long sleeves and pants which are darker. And don’t forget to protect the head. Wear sunglasses which have UV protection to help prevent damage to the eyes. Hats will help to prevent the scalp, neck and face from getting sunburned.

Watch sun exposure if there are medications being taken. Some medications, especially prescription antibiotics, can cause the skin to be more sensitive to the sun. If unsure, ask your doctor or pharmacist if your child could be at risk.

Be a good example. Set an example by following sun safety rules when you are outside. If our children see us following safe sun practices, then they are more likely to follow them without question.

Parents As Teachers is a free and voluntary program that is available to all families with children ages 0-5 who live in Hoke County. Parent educators are available to help you be your child’s first, best, and most influential teacher. If you are interested in the Parents As Teachers program, call (910) 875-2000, email csnewman@ncsu.edu, or stop by the Cooperative Extension office beside Turlington School.

Parents As Teachers is funded by Smart Start and administered by Hoke County Cooperative Extension.