The summer is filled with many outdoor activities—beach days, pool parties, barbeques, and summer camps, which means kids are constantly exposed to the sun. The American Academy of Pediatrics reminds parents, children, and especially teenagers, that long-term sun exposure is a key factor in the development of skin cancer.

Helen T. Shin, M.D., Section Chief of Pediatric Dermatology at Hackensack University Medical Center, weighs in on ways we can help protect children from the sun.

Seek Shade

“Avoid being directly in the sun when possible,” says Dr. Shin. “Try to minimize outdoor activities and stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun is the strongest.” According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a fair-skinned person sitting under a tree can burn in less than an hour, so when seeking shade, it’s still important to wear sunscreen, as a tree alone won’t always protect you.

Wear Protective Clothing

Dr. Shin suggests wearing a wide brim hat to protect the face, ears, and back of the neck, as well as protective clothing, like a swim shirt, for children, especially when they are in the water. Babies six months of age and younger should be kept out of direct sunlight, and should be dressed in lightweight clothing that covers their arms and legs, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Sunglasses should also be worn to protect your child’s eyes. “Not all sunglasses protect from UV rays,” says Dr. Shin, “so make sure you get ones that do.” Look for labels on sunglasses that say they provide 100% protection against both UVA and UVB. You can also bring your sunglasses to an eyeglass center to get tested.

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Getty Images

Apply Sunscreen Correctly

To protect your child, sunscreen should be applied 20-30 minutes prior to sun exposure, as it takes time to become effective. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, and remember to apply it to your child’s ears, back of the neck, and feet, which are commonly forgotten areas. “Pay attention to the Sun Protection Factor (SPF). The higher the number, the better the protection,” says Dr. Shin. “You also want a sunscreen that is broad spectrum, meaning it covers UVA and UVB rays.”

For those looking for an effective mineral sunscreen, Dr. Shin suggests one that contains titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. A common misconception people tend to have is that the sun cannot cause harm when it is cloudy or in the winter. “Even on cloudy days, your child should wear sunscreen,” says Dr. Shin. “In the winter if your child is outdoors, the sun does reflect off of the snow, so it’s recommended to apply sunscreen on a sunny day.”

What Type of Sunscreen Can Babies & Children Wear?

For babies six months and older, there are a few things to look for when it comes to purchasing a sunscreen:

  • Look for ingredients of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, as this sunscreen will sit atop the skin, rather than being absorbed. These ingredients are less likely to be irritating for sensitive skin.
  • Aim for an SPF of 30+, and no lower than 15.
  • Check that it reads, “broad-spectrum”, to ensure it will protect against UVB and UVA rays.

Refrain from Using Tanning Beds

It can be difficult to enforce sun safety in teens, especially when they want to achieve a summer glow. “Tanning beds are an absolute no-no, as they contain UVA radiation which causes damage to the skin and puts you at risk for skin cancer and premature wrinkling and aging,” says Dr. Shin. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the intensity of harmful ultraviolet radiation produced by some tanning units can be 10 to 15 times higher than the midday sun. “Safer alternatives to tanning include a spray tan or over-the-counter tinted lotions,” says Dr. Shin.

How Can You Treat Mild Sunburn?

It can be nerve-racking when your child develops a sunburn, especially when they are uncomfortable. Dr. Shin recommends treating mild sunburn with Vaseline or Aquaphor, which are less likely to cause stinging or burning. “If your child is feeling really hot, try a cool bath,” says Dr. Shin. “If your child’s sunburn is blistering, they should see a physician.”

One of the best parts of summer is enjoying outdoor activities and by following these tips, you can help protect your child from the sun and ensure they have a safe and enjoyable summer.

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