Take Care in the Sun
Everyone needs some sun exposure: The sun’s our primary trigger for vitamin D production, which helps us absorb calcium for strong, healthy bones. But most people get the vitamin D they need pretty quickly, and extended unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause heatstroke, sunburn, skin damage, eye damage, and cancer. The sun’s rays are particularly dangerous to young children.
Ultraviolet (UV) rays are the most damaging of the sun’s rays. UV rays react with a chemical called melanin in the skin. Melanin is our first defence against the sun, absorbing dangerous UV rays before they do serious damage to the body. Melanin is found in different concentrations according to skin colour:
The lighter your child’s natural skin pigment, the less melanin it contains. But both dark- and pale-skinned children need protection from UV rays because any tanning or burning causes skin damage. Unprotected sun exposure is even more dangerous for children with moles, very fair skin and hair, or a history of skin cancer. You should be especially careful about sun protection if your child has one or more of these high-risk characteristics.
Follow these tips to stay safe in the sun:
Keep your baby in the shade. This one isn't negotiable. Babies under the age of 6 months should be kept out of the sun altogether.
Avoid the midday sun. The strongest rays of the day are normally between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If your child is in the sun between these hours, keep him covered up in light-colored clothing and apply protective sunscreen to his skin.
Use a sunscreen at all times. The higher the sun protection factor (SPF) of the sunscreen, the better – use SPF 15 or higher. Avoid sunscreens containing PABA (para-amino-benzoic acid), because this can cause skin allergies. Apply the sunscreen generously to your child’s skin about 30 minutes before he goes outside, and then reapply every two to three hours and after swimming, even if the sunscreen is waterproof.
Protect the skin even on cloudy days. UV rays pass through clouds. Your child may be unaware that he’s burning on cooler or windy days, because the temperature or breeze keeps the skin feeling cool on the surface.
Don’t forget that light reflects. Remember those panda eyes you see on people just returned from skiing holidays? Light reflects, especially off bright surfaces like snow, and can do every bit as much damage as direct sunlight. Sunlight can reflect off water, sand, or even concrete, so if you’re on a sunshine holiday, keeping your little one out of the sun means well and truly out!
Cover up. Get your child to wear thick-woven clothes and use umbrellas or a beach tent on the beach. Make sure your child wears a hat – preferably with a flap to protect the back of the neck. Buy a stretchy sun suit for your kids with built-in high protection sun protection. Not only do they look cool (kids usually love them!) but they really work. Kids can wear them in and out of the water, as well, and they’re made to dry off quickly. Look for one with a high SPF (25 at least) and check the cleaning instructions to avoid ruining it before the holiday even starts!
Keep the water flowing. Dehydration in babies and young children is dangerous and can happen extremely quickly. Carry fluids with you at all times, and encourage your child to drink frequently. If you’re breastfeeding, your baby may need more frequent feeds to quench his thirst.
Look cool in sunglasses. Sun exposure damages the eyes as well as the skin. Just one day in the sun can result in a burned cornea (the outermost, clear membrane layer of the eye). Cumulative exposure can lead to cataracts later in life, which may result in blindness. The best way to protect your child’s eyes is for him to wear sunglasses. Not all sunglasses provide the same level of protection: Darkened plastic or glass lenses without special UV filters just trick the eyes into a false sense of safety. Purchase sunglasses with a label that confirms they provide 100 per cent UV protection.
If your child’s skin does get sunburned, bathe the affected area with cool water or cold compresses. Apply calamine lotion and give him infant paracetamol if necessary. If the skin is blistered, keep it dry and cover any burned areas, because they can easily become infected. Extensive sunburn in a child can lead to hypothermia, because your child may lose a lot of body heat – so seek medical advice immediately if sunburn is extensive.