As a parent or guardian, it is important to encourage sun safe behaviors for your children whether they are at home, on vacation, or in their schools and communities. While you might not be able to see sunburns on your children after they have spent a small amount of time in the sun, it is very important to remember that the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays cause invisible damage to your children's skin every time they are outdoors without any sun protection. This invisible damage accumulates over their lifetime. The more exposure they have had throughout their childhood, the greater their risk for developing skin cancer later in life.
Protecting Your Infant
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies under six months of age need extra protection from the sun because they have thinner, more sensitive skin. They sunburn more easily than adults. All babies, even those with darker skin, need to be protected from the sun.
Infants younger than six months should be kept out of direct sunlight. They should always be in the shade under a tree, umbrella or stroller canopy. Dress your infants in cool, comfortable clothes that cover the body and hats with wide brims that shade the face and ears.
If your baby does get sunburned, call your pediatrician immediately. For babies younger than six months, sunscreen is not recommended because of their sensitive skin. Talk to your doctor about your baby and sunscreen.
Protecting Your Child
For toddlers and babies older than six months, use a water resistant, UVA/UVB protective sunscreen made for children. Before using the sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends testing it on your child's back to see if there is a reaction. If a rash develops, talk to your pediatrician.
Apply sunscreen carefully around the eyes, avoiding the eyelids. Apply lip balm with sunscreen of SPF 15 or more on their lips. Sunscreen should be used in conjunction with shade, cover-up clothing, hats and sunglasses. The sunglasses you give your child should be real ones, not toy ones. Polycarbonate lenses are recommended because they are the most shatter-resistant.
Teaching Your Kids
Sun safety is important for families. As a parent, there are many things you can do to teach your kids how to be sun safe and to protect your family from skin cancer:
- Be a role model. Children often want to do what their parents are doing, so when they see mom or dad wearing sunglasses and a hat and see them put on sunscreen, they are much more likely to do those things too. So, be sure to be a sun safe role model!
- Make sure your children are protected at school and at daycare by asking questions and checking out the facilities. Inquire if there is adequate shade for outdoor play spaces and about what times of day the kids play outside. Find out if the schools/child care centers have sun safety policies and if the use of sunscreen, hats and sunglasses is encouraged, or even mandated. Provide your children with hats, cover-up clothing, sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip balm to wear at school.
- Reinforce to your kids that they are the most beautiful when their skin is its natural color. This can help them resist peer pressure to tan and challenge beliefs that tanning is attractive. Remember that a suntan is a sign of damaged skin - not healthy skin.
- Schedule vacation activities to avoid peak sun intensity hours, and make sure your children are protected when they go outside.
- Encourage your children to study sun safety for school projects, science fairs, or service learning projects. They can also promote sun safety through their school government by hosting an anti-tanning fashion show before prom, creating a contest for sun safety, or writing about sun protection in the school newspaper.
Protecting you and your family from the sun's dangerous rays is generally easy, but there are some barriers that people encounter. Don't let any of these obstacles prevent you from practicing great sun safety in your home and on vacation.
Some people have allergic reactions to sunscreens. Generally, people's allergic reactions are not to the active ingredients but rather to the additives that make the product smell and feel a certain way. Most people who have allergic reactions find that by trying a few other brands (for example, hypoallergenic sunscreens) they are able to find one that works for them.
The cost of sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen can be kept to a minimum. Save money by purchasing sunscreen in larger bulk-size bottles. Sunglasses and hats do not have to be brand names. From a protection standpoint, sunglasses that are labeled as blocking 99-100% UV are all the same. And cheaper hats are just as effective as long as they are either wide-brimmed (3" or bigger) or ball-cap style with a long flap in the back and made of densely-woven fabrics and dark colors. You can also look for UPF labeling on hats and other clothing as a guide.
Some people say their kids will not wear sunglasses or hats because they do not like the way they look. If this is the case, make sure that you are wearing hats and sunglasses as a role model and talk to the parents of your children's friends. Encourage them to have their kids wear hats and sunglasses, too. They will be safer and your own children will not feel like they are the only ones staying protected.