Children and Sun Exposure
One of summer's big attractions is time spent enjoying sunny days. While sun exposure provides some benefits in the form of vitamin D, which helps us absorb calcium and build strong bones and teeth, it also has a potentially dangerous effect. The sun's light consists of invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays. When these rays reach our skin they cause tanning, burning and other skin damage. A sunburn develops when the amount of UV exposure is greater than what can be protected against by the skin's melanin. All skin, no matter what color; responds to sun exposure.
Research indicates that most children experience between 50% and 80% of their lifetime sun exposure before age 18. Therefore, it is extremely important to protect young children from dangerous levels of sun exposure and to help teach children lifetime habits that will protect their healthy skin.
Protecting Children from Dangerous Sun Exposure
Employing the following practices will help to protect children (and teachers, too!) from the potentially harmful effects of sun exposure:
- Avoid the strongest rays of the day. Schedule playground times during morning hours, avoiding the most dangerous times of day - noon to 2pm in most areas. If outdoor play must occur during the middle of the day, provide lots of play options in shaded areas.
- Keep outdoor play time of reasonable length. Children's skin has some natural defense against sun damage. Those defenses do not last long. Limiting the length of your outdoor play will help to guarantee that children do not burn or otherwise damage sensitive skin.
- Cover up. Encourage parents to provide outdoor play clothes that cover sensitive skin. Lightweight long sleeve shirts and hats with wide brims provide good sun protection.
- Use sunscreen consistently. Children over 6 months of age should always use sunscreen during outdoor play in summer months when UV rays are more intense. Generously apply sunscreen 20-30 min before outdoor play. Reapply sunscreen every 2-3 hours and more often if water play is involved. Avoid sunscreens containing PABA or with an SPF of less than 15.
- Encourage shade activities. Children can enjoy outdoor play without spending all of their time in the sunniest areas of the play yard. Shaded areas still expose children to some UV rays so use of the areas does not eliminate the need for sunscreens, etc.
- Be a good role model. Children learn by watching the adults in their lives. When teachers model use of sunscreen and other protective measures, children are encouraged to follow along.
Partnering with parents to encourage the use of sunscreen and other protective measures will help increase the chances that children will enjoy the summer sunburn free! These practices also help children develop healthy habits that will serve them for their entire life.
Remind teachers of the importance of using sunscreen and other protective measures. Check the sunscreen on hand for each child. Be sure that appropriate parent permission has been secured for use of sunscreen.