How to Protect Your Child From the Sun
With the right precautions, children can safely play in the sun. Here's the lowdown on the most effective strategies:
Avoid the Strongest Rays of the Day
First, avoid being in the sun for prolonged times when it is highest overhead and therefore the strongest (normally from 10:00 AM until 3:00 PM in the northern hemisphere). If your child is in the sun between these hours, be sure to apply protective sunscreen - even if he's just playing in the backyard. Most sun damage occurs as a result of incidental exposure during day-to-day activities, not at the beach.
Even on cloudy, cool, or overcast days, UV rays travel through the clouds and reflect off sand, water, and even concrete. Clouds and pollution don't filter out UV rays, and they can give a false sense of protection. This "invisible sun" can cause unexpected sunburn and skin damage. Often, kids are unaware that they are developing a sunburn on cooler or windy days because the temperature or breeze keeps skin feeling cool on the surface.
One of the best ways to protect your family from the sun is to cover up and shield skin from UV rays. Ensure that clothes will screen out harmful UV rays by placing your hand inside the garment and making sure you can't see your hand through it.
Because infants have thinner skin and underdeveloped melanin, their skin burns more easily than that of older kids. But sunscreen should not be applied to babies under 6 months of age, so 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. Use an umbrella or tree cover to create shade.
Even older kids need to escape the sun. Long exposure can make them feel tired and irritable. For all-day outdoor affairs, bring along a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, full-length robe, a wide umbrella, or a pop-up tent to play in. Before heading to the beach or park, call ahead to find out if certain areas offer rentals of umbrellas, tents, and other sun-protective gear.
Use Sunscreen Consistently
There are lots of good sunscreens available for kids, including formulations for sensitive skin, brands with fun scents like watermelon, long-lasting waterproof and sweat-proof versions, and easy-application varieties in spray bottles.
What matters most in a sunscreen is the degree of protection from UV rays it provides. When faced with the overwhelming sea of sunscreen choices at drug stores, concentrate on the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) numbers on the labels.
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