Below are some safety tips for families with children who plan to get away from the cold, dark days of winter and enjoy the sun.

Sunny days mean children tend to be outdoors much more compared to the winter months. Increased exposure to direct sunlight does not only mean protecting one’s skin and taking measures to prevent heatstroke and dehydration, but also protecting children’s eyes. According to research carried out by The Vision Center at Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles, California, children’s eyes can be damaged from sun exposure. Overexposure to ultraviolet rays raises the risk of developing cataracts or macular degeneration later on in life.

According to dermatologists, skin cancer awareness has increased considerably over the last few years. Even so, they add that there are still many people who are not aware of the dangers cause by sunlight exposure as well as being in the heat.

Just one blistering sunburn can increase one’s risk of skin cancer, Dr. Anjali Dahiya, a dermatologist at the Iris Cantor Women’s Health Center at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, explained. Five sunburns can double your risk, he added.

Intense exposure to sunlight before the age of 20 is a much greater risk factor for skin cancer than after that age, said Dr. Lauren Sternberg, a dermatologist at the Iris Cantor Women’s Health Center of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Below are some tips on sun safety for babies from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • Keep infants aged up to six months away from direct sunlight. Keep him/her in the shade and make sure your stroller has a canopy.
  • If it is impossible to avoid direct sunlight and your child is less than six months old, you can apply sunscreen. Bear in mind that most sunscreens take at least 15 minutes to work.
  • Dress your baby in loose, lightweight clothing, making sure that the arms and legs are covered, and use a wide-brimmed hat.

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Just one blistering sunburn can increase one’s risk of skin cancer

As young children grow it becomes harder to control where they go, and keeping them out of the sun becomes a more difficult task, compared to when they were babies. The problem with sunburn is that it may not be evident until a few hours later, in the evening – i.e. a skin burn may have begun and there are no signs and symptoms.

For the skin to reach peak redness may take from 12 to 24 hours after exposure. Minor sunburn usually causes some slight redness and tenderness in the affected areas. In more serious cases there can be blistering. Extreme sunburn is often an emergency situation and the child may need to be hospitalized.

Below are some tips on sun safety for young children and adolescents from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • Use a sunscreen that is designed for kids, a waterproof one is better.
  • Test the sunscreen on your child’s back to see whether there is an allergic reaction.
  • When applying sunscreen, avoid the eyes and eyelids.
  • If your child develops a rash, talk to a health care professional or a qualified pharmacist.
  • Ideally, children fare better in hot and sunny weather in cotton clothing, and fabrics that are tightly woven.
  • Make sure your children wear sunglasses with UV protection
  • If a child gets sunburn, check with a qualified pharmacists or health care professional.

  • Stay out of the midday sun – try to stay in the shade between 10am and 4pm when the sun’s rays are most likely to burn.
  • Some white surfaces can reflect UV rays – such as sand, concrete or snow. Make sure you are wearing sunglasses and bear this in mind when timing skin exposure to sunlight.
  • It is a myth to believe that you cannot get sunburn on a cloudy day – you can! Add sunscreen to your skin even when it is cloudy.
  • What does broad spectrum sunscreen mean? – it means that it will block both UVA (ultraviolet A) rays and UVB (ultraviolet B) rays. They are better for skin protection.
  • How often is sunscreen applied? – apply sunscreen every two hours, and immediately after swimming. Choose a water-resistant or waterproof one.
  • Zinc oxide – is available in lotions, creams and ointments to protect against sunburn and other skin damage caused by ultraviolet light. It is the broadest FDA approved UVA and UVB reflector. It is not absorbed into the skin, so is non-irritating, non-allergenic and non-comedogenic (does not cause acne). Zinc oxide can be used as extra protection on the tops of ears, shoulders, cheeks and nose.
  • SPF (sun protection factor) – use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more.
  • Apply to all exposed areas – the sunscreen should be applied to all areas of exposed skin, especially the hands, feet, ears, nose, and face.
  • When to apply the sunscreen – apply the sunscreen at least 15 minutes before you go out. It needs time to start working. Some people say you should wait 30 minutes.
  • Remember why you have the sunscreen – sunscreen is designed to protect you from the damaging effects of sunlight on your skin, and not a reason to remain in the sun for longer.

Tanning beds have considerably higher levels of UVR radiation than the midday sun. A study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that tanning beds are twice as likely to cause skin cancer compared to spending the same length of time in the Mediterranean midday summer sun.

Another study found that tanning salons cause approximately 170,000 skin cancers every year in Western Europe and the USA.

  • Keep drinking lots of water. Avoid alcoholic drinks. Drink non-carbonated water even if you are not that thirsty. It will prevent dehydration
  • Stay within sight of a lifeguard. Make sure you and your children stay within the designated swimming area
  • Avoid swimming in the sea alone
  • If you get caught in a rip current, do not swim against it. Swim along the shoreline (parallel to the shore)
  • Look out for vehicles – on some beaches cars are allowed

Written by Christian Nordqvist