Playing outdoors, whether at home or at a playground, can be a lot of fun for kids. Often, children can easily spend hours out in the sun. While this is of great benefit in terms of physical fitness, the lengthy amount of time spent in the sun can be damaging as well. Not only are children exposed to the sun's rays from above, but some playground equipment may be made of metal or have a reflective surface that can increase this exposure. The use of sunscreen is important to prevent children from suffering the negative effects of the sun. However, parents should understand why this is important and what other measures can help keep their children protected while they play.
Facts About Sun Exposure
Exposure to the sun has both good and a bad effects. People, both children and adult, require the sun for optimal health; however, while outside they are also exposed to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that are invisible to the naked eye. There are three types of radiation that come from the sun, however only two reach the surface of the earth and have a negative effect. These two are UVA and UVB rays. The most dangerous of the two are UVB rays, although higher concentrations of UVA reach the earth. The third type of UV radiation is called UVC and it is blocked by the atmosphere. Exposure to UVB and UVA rays occurs even when the sky is overcast. When left unprotected, the skin is susceptible to damage caused by these rays, which often leads to a sunburn. According to the University of Chicago Medicine, damage to the skin is worse before the age of 18. Regular unprotected exposure to the sun can ultimately cause a number of problems including skin cancer.
What is Melanin?
The many variations in skin, hair and eye color are courtesy of pigment. This pigment is also known as melanin, which is produced by cells that are known as melanocytes. How much melanin a person has determines the darkness of his or her skin. In addition to coloring, it also helps to protect the skin by absorbing UV rays and it is considered a photoprotectant.
Avoid the Strongest Rays of the Day
One of the easiest ways to protect oneself against the sun is to avoid it when it is at its most direct or strongest. This typically takes place between mid-morning and mid-afternoon or between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM. To successfully avoid the strongest rays of the day, complete any outdoors chores or activities earlier in the day or wait until the early evening. If this is not an option, avoid full sun as much as possible by walking in shaded or covered areas.
In addition to avoiding the sun, people can take extra precautions by dressing appropriately and dressing for the sun. Whenever possible, and when weather permits, wear shirts with longer sleeves and pants that cover the legs. Clothing should be tightly woven and thin materials avoided. The scalp is also susceptible to damage from the sun and should be protected. This can easily be accomplished by wearing a hat. Preferably, choose a hat that has a brim that will help to protect the face.
Use Sunscreen Consistently
To protect children's skin from prolonged exposure to the sun, it is important that they wear sunscreen regularly and consistently. This is important for children of all skin tones, as children with darker skin also have the potential to burn and otherwise be affected by harmful UV rays. It should be applied to all exposed areas of the skin roughly thirty minutes before the child goes out to play. It isn't enough, however, to apply just any type of sunscreen and expect the same results. Parents will want to choose a sunscreen that provides the appropriate degree of protection against UV rays. When shopping for a sunscreen, choose one that offers broad-spectrum protection. This means that it protects the skin against UVA and UVB rays. When choosing a Sun Protection Factor (SPF), the ideal choice is an SPF 30 sunscreen. If the day's activities involve swimming or if the child will be sweating excessively, waterproof sunscreen will likely be the best choice.
Use Protective Eyewear for Kids
Eyes that are exposed to the sun without proper protection can be damaged in a way that can ultimately affect a child as he or she ages. Damage from sun exposure may cause cataracts later in life, or it may result in a burned cornea and cause immediate problems. To prevent this from occurring, parents should purchase sunglasses for their children to wear. When buying glasses for kids, parents should look for and purchase glasses that offer one hundred percent UV protection.
What To Do If Your Child Gets a Sunburn
If a child does get a sunburn it is important that parents take the right action to help decrease the pain and make their child more comfortable. One way to alleviate the pain from a sunburn is to use wet, cool compresses on the skin and to have the child bathe in bath water that is cool, yet not cold. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen that's available over-the-counter can be given to help alleviate the pain; however, parents should never give their child aspirin as it can cause Reye's syndrome. To soothe the skin, rub pure Aloe Vera gel over the burn. Children should be instructed not to scratch or otherwise disturb the skin. Because it feels dry and tight, it will also feel itchy, which will add to the child's discomfort. At times, the help of a doctor may be necessary, particularly if blisters develop or the burn is severe.
Treating Sunburn (PDF)
Find more about the author: Kim Hart