1.The younger the child, the greater the risk. Young children burn rapidly. Their skin contains less melanin to neutralize the sun’s rays. Severe sunburns early in life increase the chances of cancer in later life. Children spend much time outdoors and with increasing longevity have ever more years of exposure ahead of them.
2. Rethink your approach to protect children. Existing information, if used consistently, can reduce the risk of sun-related skin cancer by about 80%. There is no such thing as a healthy tan. Tans do not reflect vigor and fitness. Each tan is a mild sunburn and contributes to lifetime damage. Tans provide little protection from subsequent sunburns.
3. Think sun protection every time children go outside. Children less than six months of age should have no sun exposure. Cool weather does not lessen the intensity of the sun. Have an umbrella on your stroller. Minimize outdoor activities between 10 AM and 4 PM. Consider buying a “pop-up” stroller shade with built-in ultraviolet (UV) ray protection. These shades fit over your stroller’s canopy.
4. Protection at the beach is especially important. A white cotton T-shirt has a sun protection factor (SPF) of about 7 when dry and 5 when damp; generally, wetness reduces protection by about one-third. (An SPF of 15 is considered minimum protection.) A dry, white polyester polo shirt has an SPF of about 31, but when stretched across the shoulders its SPF drops to about 10.
5. “Sun-proof” clothing is the best defense. Such garments that are reasonably comfortable in hot weather are available. Check the web, stores selling clothing for camping/ outdoors, and, increasingly, stores that sell regular clothing. Many garments have labels stating their SPF number, are loose-fitting, lightweight, come in popular colors, are well vented, dry rapidly when wet, and have SPFs of 50 or more, blocking virtually all damaging rays.
6. Any old hat won’t do. Some straw hats have SPFs of less than 6. Baseball caps shield the forehead and part of the nose from the sun but not the lower face, ears, and neck. Ideally, hats should have a four- to five-inch brim extending around the entire head. But even such hats do not shield the face from UV radiation reflected up from water, sand, concrete, and white-painted surfaces.
7. Many vacation-linked activities increase sun exposure. More time is spent outdoors, sometimes at higher altitudes or at beaches. The higher the altitude, the stronger the sun; there is less atmosphere to filter out the damaging rays. Winter vacations in the tropics are sun-intensive. Tans from the previous summer that may provide a small degree of protection are gone, making skin especially vulnerable to rapid burning. About 70% of UV radiation penetrates the top 12 inches of clear water, making swimmers’ backs vulnerable.
8. You need not see the sun to get burned. Sitting in the shade of a building with the sky visible above provides far less protection than sitting under a large, leafy tree. Fluffy white clouds reduce radiation merely 20%. Large beach-type umbrellas are helpful – depending where they are placed. White sand reflects about 50% of the radiation. Water reflects up to 80%. Such radiation is additive to direct radiation. Ideally, sit on ground covered by grass or dirt.
9. Kids with dark/black skin also need protection. While their incidence of sun-related skin problems is low, damage does occur. (Moreover, later in life, problems are rarely looked for, and, if they occur, are more difficult to detect.)
10. Remember the sun when driving. Your infant may be in the shade when you start out but your car’s relationship to the sun changes during a trip. Check if your car’s windows screen out UV radiation; some do, others do not. If not, consider removable mesh window shields that do.
Next issues: Using sunscreens correctly; sunglasses for infants.