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Teaching Kids About Sun Protection

Baby Sun Protection
Kids Sun Protection

Don't we all wish we had been wiser about sun protection in our youth? I say this now gazing dolefully at the unsightly liver spots and wrinkles on my face, arms and legs. Of course annual trips to the Dermatologist to burn off skin cancer can not be ignored either. All and all, I wish that in my day a dark tan was not considered healthy and the height of fashion.

Believe it or not a tan has not always been fashionable. Just the opposite. From the time of ancient Greece to the 1920's pale skin was desirable in the western world because a tan was a sign of manual labor. Being devoid of a tan meant you were wealthy enough to afford having other people take care of that work for you. Light porcelain skin showed proof you led a life of leisure.

But in the 1920's that all changed. Famed designer Coco Channel returned from a vacation to the French Riviera sporting a tan and suddenly bronzed skin was for the rich and fashionable.

Now we need to ask ourselves "What is so fashionable about wrinkled, leathery skin and skin cancer?" The answer of course is "Nothing"!

Today we know any tan is a sign of skin damage. Skin cancer and premature aging comes from sun damage over a period of years typically starting in childhood. Protecting your skin from harmful UV rays when you are young is the best way to keep skin young and prevent skin cancer.

So let's talk about teaching children about sun protection. We have separated children's sun protection into two categories. 1. Baby Sun Protection and 2. Kids Sun Protection .... I guess there should be a third category for teenagers but as the saying goes, "Cats have nine lives. Teenagers carry on as if they did". Hopefully the training and good habits gained in their younger years will help them in their teens.

Please note: We all need some sun, which is our primary source of vitamin D, but we will save this controversial topic for another article.

Because baby skin is thinner and has underdeveloped melanin, it will become sunburned more easily than older kids and adults. Even babies with naturally darker skin need to be concerned about harmful UV rays.

Rule of thumb for babies under 6 months - no direct sun light and no chemical sunscreen.

With no direct sunlight in mind, here are some characteristics of the sun to keep in mind:

A. Reflective radiation, the sun rays that bounce off a surface and hit the skin, can cause UV damage, especially for young sensitive skin. Common surfaces that reflect the sun are the sand, concrete, a parked car or white paint on a house.

B. Overcast days are not a time to be lax on sun protection since most of the sun rays come through the clouds. My worse sunburn came on a cloudy day when I erroneously thought the sun's harmful rays were blocked.

Dress your baby with sun protective fabric that covers the head and body, stay in the shade or under a tree, umbrella, or stroller canopy. Be sure to include 100% UV protective sunglasses for the eyes.

Although most of your baby's body may be covered up from the sun, little feet and hands may be exposed. Some experts suggest sunscreen may be used on small areas of the body. Be sure to ask your physician their thoughts on this controversial subject.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics if your baby gets a sunburn and is under 1 year of age, contact your pediatrician at once - a severe sunburn is an emergency. For babies over the age of 1 year, tell your pediatrician if there is blistering, pain or fever.

Possibly the most important suggestion we can make for teaching infant's good sun safety habits, is for you to wear your sun protective clothing and sun hat . Kids seem to learn the most from imitation and it is you they want to emulate most, so take care to be a good example.

All of the sun protection measures that apply to infants also apply to older kids with the addition of sunscreen. Choose a sunscreen formulated for children with an SPF of at least 15. Look for the words " broad-spectrum" on the label - that means the sunscreen is made to screen both UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB rays.

Here are some other pointers to keep in mind:

    a. Use enough sunscreen and make sure to cover all exposed areas.

To reach the advertised SPF factor on the bottle you need to apply:

For Children            (in teaspoons)
*face and neck .............1/2
*one arm and hand ......1/2
*back and shoulders .......1
*one leg and foot .........3/4

* Areas often forgotten are the tops of the feet, ears, back of the neck and hands.

    b. Put sunscreen on 20 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. The sunscreen needs time to work on the skin. One of our customers keeps a bottle of sunscreen near the front door to help remember to wear it.

    c. Don't forget the lips. Children's and adult Lips contain little or no melanin (the bodies first defense against sun damage) making them especially vulnerable to sun damage.

We think teaching kids good sun protection habits fall in four basic categories:

   A. Emulation- Imitation of parents, teachers and older siblings is a big part of childhood development. One of the easiest and least confrontational ways to teach a young child sun protection is to have these important people in a child's life dress and act the part of the sunwise.

1. On outdoor outings wear sun protective clothing, a sun hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.

2. Be sure to head for the shade when possible.

3. Talk about sun protection. Make being sun safe as common place as looking both ways before crossing the street.

    B. Peer Pressure - Talk up sun protection with other parents, camp councilors, schools administrators, etc. Together you can see that everybody is participating in minimizing their UV exposure. When making sun precautions 'all the rage', it's hard to forget or argue.

If possible, get the "leader of the pack" or popular kids to wear sun protective clothing and sun hats. That should really help you get the ball rolling.

    C. Fun - When something is fun we don't mind doing it? Here are some ideas for making sun protection fun:

1. Small children love rhymes. When the sun is high overhead, point to the ground and say "Short shadow, seek shade" and race to the nearest shaded area.

2. Let kids pick their own sun protective outfits. Some of the new designs are colorful and feel fun to wear. We had one parent tell us that her daughter was afraid of the water but she loved her sun protective swimsuit so much that, when wearing it, she wanted to get wet!

3. Have your child "design" their own sun hat, and maybe even hats for the rest of the family. Put out paint, fabric cut in fun shapes, plus other materials that could augment a sun hat, and then turn them loose!  Another idea is to have a hat painting party and get everybody into it.


    D. Easy - Let's face it, putting on sunscreen is a chore. Easier and more effective than sunscreen is clothing made of sun protective fabric. You get better UV protection than afforded by sunscreen and none of the bother.

Are you going to the beach? Throw on a colorful SPF Water Shirt. Your child's arms, back and stomach are all protected and you didn't have to goop up! ... or reapply! (Sun protection swim wear also has a surprise benefit! When worn wet on dry land, the evaporation will help keep your little one cool. A big plus in the super heat.)

Regarding the eyes, children and teens are more susceptible to sun-related eye damage because the lenses of their eyes are more transparent than those of adults, allowing more harmful light to reach their retina. Over exposure to the sun rays has been linked to eye problems such as age related cataracts. It is important for your kids to wear protective eyewear any time their eyes are exposed to UV radiation, even on cloudy days and during the winter.

One easy and highly effective sun protective product for the eyes is uv protective water goggles... and since they also protect tender eyes from the chlorine water, kids will want to wear them. When kids are in the water they are usually there for hours. That is a lot of UV exposure!

Lastly, be sun safe yourself. Not only will you be a good role model for those around you but you will reduce your chances of skin cancer and premature aging.

This material is provided for information only. It is not a substitute for your doctor or health care provider. If you have any health questions or concerns you should see your doctor or health care provider.


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