The longest day of the year is a good time to consider sun protection for children. Being a sun-worshipper doesn’t have to mean that you and your children are looking for sun damage. A few sun protection tips can help keep the family healthy.
Teach Healthy Sun Habits
My mother made sure I understood the consequences of sun exposure. She worked to help me learn healthy sun habits because my father died of melanoma when I was young. I lived through the era of teenagers deliberately cooking themselves in the sun with extra, coconut-scented oil, but my mother never did give up asking me to stay out of the sun. Now, when I go to my high school reunions, I can see the difference between my lily white skin and that sun damaged skin of my former classmates. I didn’t stay out of the sun all of the time, but I learned how to limit my exposure.
Sun exposure is not the only risk factor for melanoma, but UV (ultraviolet) exposure is one of believed to be one of the leading causes of skin cancer. History of sunburns as a child or teenager is also a risk factor.
It is important for us as parents to teach our children healthy sun habits. We can’t control the risk from family history, and we may not have much choice about whether we live close to the equator or at high altitude, but we can control sun exposure and most childhood sunburns. In my own experience, understanding WHY I should avoid the sun was important in my developing good habits.
Explain the sun to your children in language and ideas appropriate to their age. Don’t try to scare them, but make sure they have information they need to begin making their own healthy choices.
Sun Tips for Children
How can you avoid sun exposure? Easy! Stay out of the sun. Or use some kind of barrier to keep ultraviolet light from your child’s skin. This could be a physical barrier like an umbrella or a sunsuit, or it could be sunscreen as a barrier on the skin. A young child might enjoy carrying a fun parasol—which means, after all, “for the sun.”
- Keep children under 6 months out of the sun
- Use sunscreen with a rating of at least SPF 15 for all children
- Keep everyone out of the sun from late morning to early afternoon
- Wear a hat with a big brim
- Wear sunglasses, even young children
- Wear a lightweight shirt with sleeves
With all of these warnings, why go out in the sun at all? Stay in the shade or make your own shade whenever you can.
For the littlest babies, cover them up. Peekaru makes an Ozone Sun Shade that fits over a baby carrier. It also fits over a car seat or a stroller.
For toddlers, the quickest way to cover them up is a zip-on sun suit that you can wash and reuse over and over. ByNature.ca carries a quick-dry, polyester sunsuit that is Made in Canada.
The Best Sunscreen for Children
ByNature.ca is careful to carry only the highest quality, safest sunscreens. Every year, the U.S. Environmental Working Group rates sunscreens. This year, they have recommended only 39 of the 500 sunscreens they evaluated. All of ByNature.ca’s children’s sunscreens are among the 39 recommended products.
All of the above sunscreens have zinc oxide, which the Environmental Working Group gives a hazard rating of 4, but all of the non-mineral sunscreens include at least one potential hormone disruptor. It’s clearly a trade off, and EWG finds zinc or titanium less hazardous overall.
What should be in sunscreens? Health Canada does not require sunscreen manufacturers to reveal their ingredients, though most follow the guidelines for cosmetics and do list ingredients. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been working on sunscreen regulations for 32 years. Yes, THIRTY-TWO YEARS! Since I was in my backyard listening to “Margaritaville” and cooking myself in oil, the U.S. government regulators have been contemplating their guidelines. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there are active nonprofits like the Environmental Working Group grounding their work in science and helping all of us evaluate our best sunscreen choices.
Kids want to be outside in the summer, and they should be. Cover them up when they will be exposed to the sun, and help them learn healthy sun habits that will serve them well for a long lifetime.