Angela Allen-Helms of McDowell Pediatrics in Marion offers these great tips for keeping your little ones safe from the sun’s rays, as seen in the latest edition of WNC Parent.
As long, dark winter days give way to the bright, sun-filled days of summer, it’s important to review essential tips for reducing your child’s risk for skin damage. Protection from harmful ultraviolet radiation is a must. There is an ever-growing body of evidence that associates the lifelong, cumulative effects of UVR exposure to increasing rates of skin cancer. This includes increasing rates of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, even in young people.
Lifelong sun protection begins in infancy, when early skin damage can contribute to skin disease later in life. Parents play an important role in protecting their child’s skin and modeling healthy skin practice behaviors.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released recommendation guidelines aimed at reducing the long term effects of UVR damage. All children are at risk for sun damage without protection practices. Children at greatest risk are those with light skin and eyes, who freckle or sunburn easily, or have a family history of melanoma.
Infants are at particular risk for sunburn and heat stroke. Babies younger than 6 months have not yet fully developed the ability to heat and cool their bodies efficiently. AAP recommendations for infants are aimed primarily at avoiding direct sunlight exposure. For best protection, avoid taking your infant outside in direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest. Keep your baby in the shade at all times. Your baby should be dressed in lightweight, dark, tightly woven, long-sleeve shirts and long pants. Always add a wide-brimmed, tightly woven hat that covers your baby’s neck and ears. Remember that infants get sun exposure even on cloudy days and when in the water.
Sunscreen use is generally not recommended for infants younger than 6 months. However, there may be times with sun exposure simply cannot be avoided. If sunscreen must be used, apply only a small amount to exposed areas of dry skin, 15-30 minutes prior to going out in the sun. Reapply every two hours. Choose a “broad spectrum” water resistant sunscreen product that provides coverage against UVA and UVB rays with an SPF 30 or higher. Bathe your baby after returning inside after sun exposure. Never use spray aerosol sunscreens on infants. Your baby may accidentally inhale the spray or get the spray in their eyes causing irritation.
Skin protection for babies older than 6 months, as well as children and teens, should also follow the previously discussed skin protection guidelines. If possible, avoid sunscreen with the ingredient oxybenzone because of concerns about mild hormonal properties. For this age group, choose a sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for sensitive areas of the body, such as the nose, cheeks, tops of the ears and shoulders. These products stay visible on the skin even when you rub them and often come in bright, fun colors that your child will enjoy wearing.
Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors. Cover all exposed areas, rubbing it in well. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or excessive sweating during exercise.
And don’t forget eye protection. All infants and children should wear sunglasses with at least 99 percent UV protection.
Your teen may be more resistant to sun protection practices. It may be helpful for your teen’s health care provider to discuss sun protection, together with you, to promote responsibility for sun protection practices. In addition, the AAP supports legislation prohibiting access to tanning salons and use of artificial tanning devices by children younger than 18. As we get close to prom season, encourage your teen to look to alternative tanning methods. The intensity of the UVR radiation produced by some tanning units can be 10 to 15 times higher than the midday sun. Reasonably priced self-tanning products or spray tans are a great alternative for getting that “glow” without the risk of UVR exposure.
What if it happens anyway?
What should you do if your child gets a sunburn? If your baby is younger than 1 year, call your baby’s health care provider right away. For older children, call your child’s health care provider if there is blistering, pain or fever.
Symptomatic treatment to relieve mild sunburn include replacement of lost fluids by giving your child water or 100 percent fruit juice. Cool water bath or soaks will help burned skin feel better. Pain control may be used for painful burns. Give acetaminophen if your baby is 6 months or younger. For a child older than 6 months, give either acetaminophen or ibuprofen according to your child’s weight. Avoid medicated lotions unless your health care provider says it’s OK. Remember to keep your child out of the sun until the sunburn is fully healed.
Finally, examine your child’s skin regularly. Seek prompt medical evaluation if you notice a dark, asymmetrical or changing mole with irregular borders. Your child’s health care provider and you are a team. Together, we can ensure that your child maintains lifelong healthy skin practices that decrease their risk for development of skin cancer and premature aging. So get up, get out there and enjoy a summer filled with fun and sun.
Angela Allen-Helms, NP, is with McDowell Pediatrics in Marion, an affiliate of Mission Health. (828) 652-6386.