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Protecting Your Child from Sun Damage

Some sunshine is good for children. Sun exposure is an important source of vitamin D, which helps strengthen bones. But l0 to 15 minutes of sun two to three times a week is usually enough to meet the vitamin D needs of most people.

Sun exposure usually can do more harm than good, because sun damage begins in childhood. Ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause sunburn today, and wrinkles, age spots, and skin cancer years later. Children are more at risk for sunburn than adults because they spend more time in the sun. In fact, people get most of their lifetime sun exposure by age 18.

Although skin cancer in children is rare, the most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, has been found in children. The most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, can develop later in life from just one severe childhood sunburn.

Sun protection should begin when your children are infants. Harmful UV rays can penetrate clouds, so be sure your children are protected even on cloudy days.

Clothing: One of the best ways to protect your children is to dress them in a hat with a brim and light-colored, tightly woven clothes. Experts recommend lightweight long sleeves and long pants.

Sunglasses: Childhood sun exposure can also damage the eye’s lens and retina and lead to cataracts later in life. Children and babies should wear sunglasses even if they are in the sun for a short time. Sunglasses that block 99 to 100% of UV rays have a special chemical in the lens and are the only ones that protect. Buy sunglasses that say “blocks 99% of UV rays” or “UV absorption to 400 nm.”

Sunscreen: You should apply liberally at least 15 SPF sunscreen on your children 30 minutes before they go outside. Choose a waterproof sunscreen, and reapply every two hours. It’s best to keep babies younger than 6 months out of the sun completely or shade their carriage or stroller with an umbrella. If you need to use sunscreen, apply a small amount to their face and back of the hands. Apply carefully around the eyes, avoiding the eyelids.

Parents should have their children stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when it is the strongest.

Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Jovino, DO
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