Protecting Your Child from the Summer Sun
With summer virtually here and the School Holidays and Festive Season around the corner, we all need to make sure that we protect ourselves from the harsh African sun.
Every day parents are bombarded with conflicting advice as to what is best for their children; children aren’t exercising enough — get them outside; children are at risk for skin cancer — get them inside!
This can be very confusing, especially for newer parents, but the truth is actually that both you and your children can and should enjoy an active and healthy lifestyle, with plenty of outdoor exercise, without any danger – by practicing good sun-protection habits.
Every child needs sun protection, and all children, regardless of their pigmentation should wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Although dark skin has more protective melanin and tans more easily than it burns, tanning is a sign of sun damage. Dark-skinned children can also get painful sunburns.
We South Africans love being outdoors during the summer, whether it be braaing around the pool, hiking or having a picnic on the beach… and we can continue to do all of these things as long as we apply some simple rules about being out in the sun.
Avoid the Sun at Peak Hours: The sun’s most dangerous burning rays are Ultra Violet B. These are called UVB for short. Think “B for burning.” UVB rays are strongest between the hours of 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Make every effort to minimise your time outdoors during these hours, and if that is not possible, sit under an umbrella or somewhere there is shade, like under a tree.
Use Sunscreen: Choose a sunscreen with a minimum SPF factor of 30 – make sure it has both UVA and UVB protection written on the label or the words “broad spectrum”. Test the sunscreen for allergies on a small amount of skin before using it all over, and apply half an hour before exposure to the sun since it takes time for your skin to absorb the sunscreen.
Use water-resistant and water proof sunscreens if swimming is involved; Water resistant sunscreen provides 40 minutes of protection in the water and water proof sunscreen gives you 80 minutes of protection. Apply regularly.
Don’t forget about ears, hands, feet, shoulders, and behind the neck. Lift up bathing suit straps and apply sunscreen underneath them (in case the straps shift as the child moves). Protect lips with an SPF 30 lip balm.
Wear Sun Protective Gear: Sunglasses are important for adults and children; wrap-around sunglasses absorb at least 99% of UV rays and also protect the skin around the eyes. Never use toy sunglasses, as they don’t protect the eyes at all and can do more harm than good.
A light-weight, long-sleeved shirt can afford protection for the upper body, especially the shoulders, while lightweight pants can protect the legs. An absolute necessity is a wide-brim hat which will protect the face.
Sit under an umbrella or a gazebo for extra protection.
Remember to Hydrate: It is very easy to become dehydrated when having fun in the sun, especially for children and the elderly who do not notice the signs of dehydration easily. Dehydration can lead to dizziness, headaches, lethargy, nausea, heat-stroke and far more.
Children are much more prone to dehydration than adults because their bodies don’t cool down as efficiently, and they are never more at risk than during the heat of summer.
Get your child in the habit of hydrating regularly early on by scheduling frequent beverage breaks during activity, about every 20 minutes or so in hot weather. If possible, take all hydration breaks in a shady spot.
The amount of water a child needs to stay hydrated and healthy may surprise you: teenagers need as much as adults (eight to 11 cups), while even toddlers aged 1 to 3 should have four cups of fluids a day. Water is not needed for infants under 6 months of age, and babies under 1 year can stay hydrated with breast milk or formula.
If kids balk at drinking “boring” water, give it some flavour and color. Freeze berries or cranberries into ice cubes, or infuse water with fresh fruit, herbs or vegetables such as lemon, mint, watermelon or orange. Even adding unflavoured soda to water makes it more of a treat – “bubbles without the calories,”
Make your own ice lollies for a fluid-rich treat. Puree fruit or use no-sugar-added fruit juice and pour into freezer moulds.
Babies under six months should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Their skin is not yet protected by melanin, so when you do take your infant outside, take precautions. Cover your baby’s sensitive skin with proper protective clothing that covers the arms and legs completely, and a wide-brimmed sun hat or bonnet. Also, be sure to use a pram or stroller with a canopy or hood. If you want to sit outside, find a shady spot or put up an umbrella. Sunscreens can be used on babies over the age of 6 months.
Young children have thinner, more delicate skin that burns very quickly in the sun. You should keep them out of the sun in the hottest hours and smear them with at least SPF30 sunscreen the rest of the time.
Toddlers should always wear wide-brimmed hats; baseball caps may look good, but they leave the back of the neck and ears completely exposed. If your toddler does not like wearing a wide-brimmed hat, try the foreign legion type cap which has a cloth flap that covers the back of the neck.
Teens are under enormous peer pressure to dress, talk, and look a certain way, and the youth often equate being tanned with being “hip” and “cool” even if they know the dangers of tanning.
Teach him or her about self-tanners; modern self-tanning lotions and creams can duplicate a natural glow without exposing your child to harmful UV rays and won’t turn them orange anymore. Remind them though, that a self-tanner must always be used along with a sunscreen.
Your teen should know that being tan does not mean being healthy. Make sunscreen application part of his or her daily routine. Keep the sunscreen out in the open in the bathroom, next to the toothpaste, as a physical reminder. If your teen is involved in after-school sports, make sure a bottle of sunscreen is always in his or her equipment bag.
Teens might also balk at other sun protection measures. If your teen complains that the beach hat makes him look stupid, take him shopping and let him pick out one he likes. If your teen complains that nobody else has to wear a dress to the beach, let her choose fun sarongs to go with a colourful matching hat. Luckily, few teens complain about having to wear sunglasses. Let them choose a pair they like, provided they provide UV protection.