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We all love those spring and summer days, where we can spend most of the day outside. Not only does it give the feeling of freedom being outside of four walls, being in the sun provides us with necessary vitamin D. Throughout the year, children spend a lot more time outdoors than adults.
Though it’s a parental instinct to protect their kids from any harm, surprisingly, many cases of tans and sunburns are reported in babies during summertime. Overexposure to direct sunlight can lead to skin damage, eye damage, and in worse cases, skin cancer. That’s why sun safety for babies and children, with their fresh, extra-sensitive skin, is paramount.
Sunlight—Helpful or Harmful?
The sun is a symbol of life. Without sunlight, life would not exist. Not only is it pleasant to feel the sun on your face and skin, it’s also healthy, as it’s one of the best sources of vitamin D.
Unfortunately, as with most things, too much of anything can turn benefits into a hazard, and sunlight is no different. Too much sun can lead to heat stroke, sunburn, heat rash and eye damage. With sunburn specifically, UV light has reached the inner layers of your skin, which can cause skin cells to damage, die or develop skin cancer.
How to Expose Babies and Children to the Sun Safely?
Since sunlight is both helpful and (potentially) harmful, you don’t want to keep your children indoors and out of the sun altogether. Exposing them to sunlight in the safest way possible is key. We’ll go over various ways of sun protection to help you navigate your options.
The first and most obvious form of protection is to keep babies and children in the shade as much as possible, especially between 10.00 am and 4.00 pm, when the sun is at its strongest. The darker the shadow of the shade, the denser the shade. A large tree may provide dense shade, or a sizeable umbrella if there’s no natural shade available.
Less sunlight can reach your children in the shade, but some UV light will still be able to get through, so additional protection is needed.
Skin that is not immediately exposed to direct sunlight isn’t likely to burn. Protective clothing can, therefore, assist in preventing sunburn in your baby or toddler.
- Loose-fitting clothing is coolest, and cotton is cooler compared to synthetics.
- Tightly woven fabric is better than fabric that still allows a lot of light to shine through, as UV rays may reach the skin.
- Long sleeves and long pants, of course, cover more skin, but when it’s too hot, choose a three-quarter length or elbow/knee-length clothing.
- Wetsuits, rash vests, or even just a t-shirt may provide extra protection during in-water activities, where chances of sunburn are many times higher due to the reflection of the sun on the water’s surface.
- Especially for babies, but also for older children, wearing a broad-brimmed hat to protect the eyes, face, neck, ears, and nose is important.
- Special clothing with an ultraviolet protective factor rating can be beneficial.
Again, too much of anything isn’t good, so moderation is key. Too many clothes on a hot day can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which comes its own dangers and hazards.
To Screen or Not to Screen?
When you’ve provided as much shade as possible and have covered skin with comfortable clothing, make sure to generously and regularly apply sunscreen on the parts that aren’t covered by protective clothing, even when you’re in the shade. A minimum Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 for babies and older children is necessary, though higher is recommended.
How to Protect Your Baby
In newborns and babies younger than 6 months, everything is very delicate. Their skin is very sensitive, so they should be kept out of the sun, in the shade, and covered with protective clothes, rather than applying sunscreen. Avoid the peak hours of the sun and seek shaded areas on walkways or use the canopy of the baby stroller to provide shade.
Sunscreen From Six Months
When your baby is six months old, you can start applying sunscreen to skin that’s exposed to sunlight. Choose a water-resistant sunscreen and test it on your child’s wrist first to make sure there’s no sensitivity reaction. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are good choices as active ingredients, as they don’t require chemical absorption to be efficient and cause fewer skin issues.
Apply 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply approximately every 2 hours. Make sure to cover the neck, ears, and top of the feet and hands, as these places are regularly forgotten. All previously mentioned protective measures still apply.
Sun Safety for Children and Toddlers
Little hyperactive monsters in the toddler stage are hard to catch and keep still to thoroughly apply sunscreen, so make it easy on yourself by selecting products that assist you. Use a spray or a stick, but make sure not to spray in their face directly, but rather on your hands first and apply manually.
Make a little game out of it or a competition of which parent/child team can apply the fastest and have a little prize for the winning team. Or just bribe them, if all else fails.
Sun safety for babies and children includes sunglasses as soon as possible. Though most children dislike hats and anything covering their face and eyes, it’s good practice to start at an early age. Little sunglasses with elastic bands are available for young babies and as they get a little older, they may feel ‘real’ sunglasses are rather cool.
It’s challenging to keep them on, though, let alone not to lose them. Little straps are available so they hang around the neck if taken off.
Time of the Year
Though a general recommendation is to keep children out of direct sunlight between 10.00 am and 4.00 pm, ultraviolet radiation varies during the year and even during the day. There are apps available to check for radiation, so high exposure can be avoided.
Naturally, the type of skin more sensitive to the sun is also more likely to get burned and, therefore, higher at risk for damage or disease. The highest risk of sunburn includes:
- Redheads with pale skin complexion.
- Those with albinism, who lack pigmentation in general.
- People with vitiligo skin issues.
Those with darker skin have a lot of pigmentation and have a lower chance of overexposure, but this doesn’t mean they are free of risks. Overexposure can still lead to sunburn and damage in these cases, but in general, it’s discovered much later and has bigger risks of not being reversible.
In the summer, children can play outside forever. Taking or guiding them to environments with plenty of natural shade would be ideal, but we all know kids seldom sit still. And playtime is for moving!
Keep your newborn in the shade and covered as much as possible and resist the temptation of the naked baby or diaper tan. If you make ‘sun-awareness’ a routine when it comes to dressing your children in summer, allowing them to choose their outfits and creating little games around sunscreen applications, nothing should be in the way of you and your children enjoying a sun-safe day out.