The following is an excerpt from the Westford Pediatrics website:
The sun gives off invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays. Theses rays cause tanning, burning and other skin damage. Children can safely play in the sun when the right precautions are taken.
Avoid the Strongest Rays of the Day
Seek shade when the sun is at its highest overhead, usually 10 am until 4 pm. If you are in the sun between these hours, apply and reapply sunscreen. UV rays travel through the clouds and reflect off sand, water, and even concrete even on cloudy days. On these days, a sunburn can sneak up on you since the skin often feels cool on the surface.
One of the best ways to protect your family from the sun is wear clothing that will screen out harmful UV rays. Place your hand inside the garments to make sure you cannot see it through them. Infant’s skin burns more easily than that of older children. But sunscreen should not be applied to babies under 6 months of age. They absolutely must be kept out of the sun whenever possible. If your infant must be in the sun, dress him or her in clothing that covers the body, including hats with wide brims to shadow the face, or use an umbrella to create shade.
Use Sunscreen Consistently
There are lots of choices for sunscreens available for children. Look for the SPF (sun protection factor) numbers on the label and make sure it protects against both UVA and UVB rays (referred to as “broad-spectrum” sunscreen). Choose one that has a SPF of 30 or higher for children age 6 months and older to prevent both sunburn and tanning. Avoid sunscreens with PABA to avoid possible skin allergy if your child has sensitive skin. Look for a product with the active ingredient titanium dioxide (a chemical-free block).
To get a tanned appearance, teens might try self-tanning lotions. These offer an alternative to ultraviolet exposure, but only minimal (or no) protection from UV light.
For sunscreen to do its job, it must be applied correctly. Be sure to:
Apply sunscreen generously about 15 to 30 minutes before children go outside so that a good layer of protection can form. Don’t forget about lips, hands, ears, feet, shoulders, and behind the neck. Lift up bathing suit straps and apply sunscreen underneath them (in case the straps shift as a child moves).
Reapply sunscreen often, about every 2 hours, as recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. Make sure to reapply after a child has been sweating or swimming.
Apply a waterproof sunscreen if children will be around water or swimming. Waterproof sunscreens may last up to 80 minutes in the water but will still need reapplying when children come out of the water.
Every child needs extra sun protection. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that all children, regardless of their skin tone, wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Use Protective Eyewear
Sun exposure damages the eyes as well as the skin. Cumulative exposure can lead to cataracts (clouding of the eye lens, which leads to blurred vision) later in life. The best way to protect eyes is to wear sunglasses. Not all sunglasses provide the same level of ultraviolet protection; darkened plastic or glass lenses without special UV filters just trick the eyes into a false sense of safety. Purchase sunglasses with labels ensuring that they provide 100% UV protection.
Some medications increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV rays. As a result, even children with skin that tends not to burn easily can develop a severe sunburn in just minutes when taking certain medications. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any prescription (especially antibiotics and acne medications) and over-the-counter medications your child is taking can increase sun sensitivity. If so, always take extra sun precautions. The best protection is simply covering up or staying indoors; even sunscreen can’t always protect skin from sun sensitivity caused by medications.
If Your Child Gets a Sunburn
When you get sunburned, you usually experience pain and a sensation of heat. These symptoms tend to become more severe several hours after sun exposure. Some people also develop chills. Skin can become itchy and tight, because the sun can dry it. Encourage your child not to scratch or peel off loose skin because skin underneath the sunburn is vulnerable to infection.
If your child does get a sunburn, these tips may help:
Have your child take a cool (not cold) bath, or gently apply cool, wet compresses to the skin to help alleviate pain and heat.
To ease discomfort, apply pure aloe vera gel to any sunburned areas.
Give your child an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen or use acetaminophen to lessen the pain and itching. (Do not, however, give aspirin to children or teens.) Over-the-counter diphenhydramine may also help reduce itching and swelling.
Apply topical moisturizing cream to rehydrate the skin and treat itching. For the more seriously sunburned areas, apply a thin layer of 1% hydrocortisone cream to help with pain. (Do not use petroleum-based products, because they prevent excess heat and sweat from escaping. Also, avoid first-aid products that contain benzocaine, which may cause skin irritation or allergy.)
If the sunburn is severe and blisters develop, call your doctor. Until you can see your doctor, tell your child not to scratch, pop, or squeeze the blisters, which can become easily infected and can result in scarring. Keep your child in the shade until the sunburn is healed. Any additional sun exposure will only increase the severity of the burn and increase pain.
Be Sun Safe Yourself
Don’t forget: Be a good role model by consistently wearing sunscreen with SPF 30 or greater, using sunglasses, and limiting your time in the sun. These preventive behaviors not only reduce your risk of sun damage, but teach your children good sun sense.