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Alison Rhodes, "The Safety Mom"

National Child Safety Expert, Alison Rhodes, “The Safety Mom,” is one of the country's leading child safety authorities, providing tips and advice to parents on a broad range of issues facing all children - newborns to teens.
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If the sunburn is severe and blisters develop, call your doctor. Until you can see your child's doctor, tell your child not to scratch, pop, or squeeze the blisters, which can become easily infected and result in scarring.

Heat-related Illnesses

Heat-related illnesses such as heat syncope (fainting from heat), heat exhaustion, and heat stroke are far more serious than a sunburn. These conditions occur when kids become very overheated and dehydrated, and in many cases, they are accompanied by sunburn. Contact your child's doctor if your child has an unexplained fever higher than 102 degrees Fahrenheit or 38.9 degrees Celsius, the skin looks infected, or he has trouble looking at light. (This may indicate a sunburn of the eye's cornea.) If your child has nausea, vomiting, fainting, delirium, or diarrhea, contact your child's doctor for immediate assistance.

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Ultraviolet (UV) Rays
Sunlight contains three types of ultraviolet rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC.

  • UVA rays cause skin aging and wrinkling, and contribute to skin cancer, such as melanoma. Because UVA rays pass effortlessly through the ozone layer (the protective layer of atmosphere, or shield, surrounding the earth), they make up the majority of our sun exposure. Beware of tanning beds because they use UVA rays to generate tanning. A UVA tan does not help protect the skin from further sun damage; it merely produces color and a false sense of protection from the sun.
  • UVB rays are also dangerous, causing sunburns, cataracts (clouding of the eye lens), immune system damage, and contributing to skin cancer. Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is thought to be associated with severe UVB sunburns that occur before the age of 20. Most UVB rays are absorbed by the ozone layer, but enough of these rays pass through to cause serious damage.
  • UVC rays are the most dangerous, but fortunately, these rays are blocked by the ozone layer and don't reach the earth.

Melanin is the protective chemical in the skin that absorbs UV rays and causes tanning. It is found in a variety of colors and concentrations, resulting in different skin colors. Most people have a blending of melanin colors in their skin but tend to have a dominant shade:

  • red, found primarily in Northern Europeans
  • yellow, found primarily in Asians
  • brown, found primarily in African, Native and South American, and South Pacific people

Yellow and red melanins found in light-skinned persons provide the least amount of sun protection. Brown melanin found in darker-skinned persons reflects the most UV and provides the most sun protection. Both dark- and light-skinned kids need protection from UV rays because any tanning or burning causes skin damage. All children should always wear sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15.

Reviewed by: Steve Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 1999

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