Sun Safety 101 for Kids

Fun in the sun shouldn’t mean increasing your child’s chances for developing skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, your child’s lifetime risk for skin cancer may double after a single serious sunburn. Prevention is vital to avoid the harmful effects of overexposure.

“It’s important to prepare for sun exposure, especially if you plan to be out in the sun for an extended period of time, or during the hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest,” said Aliya Kohler M.D., a Family Medicine specialist with the Henry Ford Health in Bloomfield Hills. Kohler cares for infants, children, adults and elderly patients.

The American Cancer Society reminds us to use sunscreen, cover up and seek shade. Dr. Kohler adds that skin needs protection even on cloudy days. She said, “It is important to protect your skin because ultraviolet (UV) rays can pass through the clouds and cause sunburn,” Dr. Kohler said. “Also, UV rays can be reflected off surfaces like sand, cement, and water.”

Why kids are more exposed to sun damage

Dr. Kohler notes that children are at a higher risk than adults for sunburn.

“Children are usually unaware of the risks of sunburn and less likely to use preventive measures,” she said. Dr. Kohler recommends using two types of sun protection, such as shade or clothing, like hats and long-sleeve shirts, plus sunscreen to reduce overexposure. “Reapply sunscreen after sweating, rubbing the skin, or swimming,” Dr. Kohler advises.

Babies are particularly prone to overexposure. “The safety of sunscreen has not been tested in infants younger than 6 months, and sunscreens are not usually recommended for this age group,” Dr. Kohler said. Instead, Dr. Kohler encourages caregivers to use hats, sunglasses and shade to protect infants from the sun. However, when adequate clothing and shade are not available, she said, “You may apply a minimal amount of sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher to small areas of the face and the back of hands.”

Sensitive skin or “baby” formulas are recommended.

But what about Vitamin D?

Recently, research has suggested that using sunscreens reduce levels of vitamin D, an important vitamin used for building healthy bones and teeth.

“The body uses sunlight that shines on the skin to make vitamin D,” Dr. Kohler explained. “The amount of sunscreen most people apply produces only a modest reduction in vitamin D levels. For individuals who are not vitamin D deficient or at risk for vitamin D deficiency, no reduction in sunscreen use is necessary,” she said.

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