TMH Living Well: Be diligent about sun protection with kids

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It’s the peak of summer and we all want to get out and soak in the rays of the sun. Enjoy the outdoors, but remember the intensity of the sun is stronger than when we were kids. That’s because ultraviolet rays penetrate our thinning atmosphere more easily and make us more vulnerable to sun damage. When you are out having fun take precautions to protect your family, especially babies, from too much sun exposure.

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Dr. Kelly Follett

“Sun exposure builds up over time and can eventually cause cancer. Even getting a tan can cause cell damage and lead to cancer. There is a common misconception that only sunburns can lead to cancer, but that’s not true,” said Dr. Kelly Follett, TMH Medical Clinic Pediatrician.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, getting a tan means you’ve injured your skin and created genetic mutations in your DNA. These mutations can lead to skin cancer. Kids are especially vulnerable, as experts believe sun exposure early in life increases the risk of skin cancers.

While all sun exposure is damaging, burns are much worse. The Skin Cancer Foundation states that even just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles the chance of developing melanoma in later years.

Give babies extra protection

While everyone needs to be careful in the sun, this goes tenfold for babies. They are not as well-equipped to deal with sun damage as older kids and adults. Babies have much thinner skin and have less melanin — the brown pigment that is released to protect against ultraviolet light.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sunscreen use in infants older than 6 months old. It isn't that sunscreen isn't safe for infants younger than this, it just hasn't been tested in young babies,” Follett said.

The American Academy of Dermatology advises parents simply keep babies younger than six months out of the sun, or keep them covered. With older babies and children they recommend avoiding sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., using sunglasses, hats, long sleeves, and applying a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

Seek shade

Obviously, the best way to limit sun damage is to limit your time in the sun. This doesn’t mean staying indoors. Rather, get in the habit of seeking shade from umbrellas, trees, hats and long sleeves. If you must feel the sun on your face, do it only for a few minutes with plenty of sunscreen.

Don’t forget to reapply sunscreen

Getting in the habit of applying sunscreen to your face and your children’s faces every morning in the summer is a good one, but don’t forget to reapply after three or four hours. Also, sunscreen works best when applied 30 to 45 minutes prior to going out in the sun. When swimming, use a waterproof sunscreen and reapply after extended time in the water. Protect your scalp by using spray sunscreen or wearing a hat.

For older babies, select a sunscreen designed for sensitive skin. You may want to consider one derived from more natural products. Remember, whatever is in the product will get absorbed into your baby’s skin.

“Sunscreen can protect against several skin cancers, including melanoma. People can even get sunburned on a cloudy day, so it's important to keep this in mind. Keep as much skin covered as possible and apply SPF 30 or higher sunscreen on exposed areas,” Follett said.

Finally, remember that tanning beds also cause sun damage, so resist your teenager’s pleading for anything more than occasional use — and of course, insist on sunscreen.

This weekly article with tips on living well is sponsored by The Memorial Hospital at Craig — improving the quality of life for the communities we serve through patient-centered healthcare and service excellence.

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