Published on November 21, 2011
You want your children to have an active and healthy lifestyle, with plenty of outdoor exercise. But what about the risk of skin damage? Don't live your life inside — you and your family can be fit and sun-safe.
Every day, parents are bombarded with conflicting advice on what is best for their children. Children aren't exercising enough — get them outside! Children are at risk for skin cancer — get them inside! It can be confusing. But the truth is, your family members can enjoy a healthy, physically fit lifestyle without endangering their skin — if you all practice good sun protection habits.
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 carriage 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. You can read more about how to provide sun protection for infants and toddlers here.
With 15 percent of US children ages 6 - 19 overweight or obese, it's more important than ever that your children be active. They should be encouraged to "go outside and play." However, sustaining five or more sunburns in childhood increases lifetime risk of melanoma by 80 percent, so it is important to get your children in the habit of practicing sun protection.
Sometimes, surprisingly, schools are the biggest block to children's safety. Many schools see sunscreen as a medicine, and require either written permission to use it, or require that the school nurse apply it. Many schools also ban the wearing of hats and sunglasses during school hours, including recess.
Talk to your school's administration to find out what the policy is on sun safety. Is there any shade on the playground? Are outdoor activities scheduled to avoid the sun's& peak hours? If your school's policies are unwittingly endangering your child, alert other parents to the risk, and get involved.
Teens are under enormous pressure to dress, talk, and look a certain way. Sometimes, no matter how much they know about the dangers of tanning, they'll still seek a tan in order to conform.
In fact, some teens are so determined to get a tan that they resort to tanning salons, where sun lamps give off harmful UV rays. The intensity of the UV radiation received in a tanning parlor may be as much as 15 times that of the sun.
If your teen must be tan, teach him or her about self-tanners. New self-tanning lotions and creams can duplicate a natural glow without exposing you to harmful UV rays. They've improved immensely over the past few years and won't turn you orange anymore. But remember, 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 kid is involved in after-school sports, make sure a bottle of sunscreen is always in his equipment bag. Most physical education classes in school take place outside when the weather permits, as does recess, so make sure your kid keeps a bottle of sunscreen in her regular locker or gym locker.
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 colorful matching hat. Luckily, few teens complain about having to wear sunglasses. Let them choose a pair they like, provided they provide UV protection.
Sun safety doesn't condemn you to life indoors. If you love the beach, go early or late in the day, when the sun's rays are less intense. Take a supply of sunscreen that has an SPF of 15 or greater. Wear attractive sun-protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat, and carry a beach umbrella. And don't forget sunglasses to protect your eyes.
The most important thing to remember when thinking about sun protection is this: you are your children's role model. Be sure to let them see you protecting yourself from the sun. If you have great skin, so will they.