The long, lazy days of summer are finally here. Children and teenagers want to be outside to have fun in the sun. Before going outside, though, we all need to remember a few guidelines to prevent sunburn or damage to our skin from sun exposure.
For all ages, the best way to prevent sunburn is to avoid sun exposure. This is especially true for babies 6 months of age and younger. With infants, dress them in lightweight clothing that covers their arms and legs, as well as a brimmed hat to cover their necks to reduce the possibility of sunburn. If sunscreen is needed, you can apply a minimal amount with SPF (sun protective factor) 15 or higher on their faces and backs of their hands.
With older children and teenagers, remind them to follow the “S-U-N”: Shade, Use sunscreen, Need a cover up.
• Shade: To minimize sun exposure, try to stay in the shade as much as possible. Beware of prolonged exposure to midday sun, from 10 am to 4 pm. These are the peak intensity hours, during which there is the strongest sunlight.
• Use sunscreen: Use sunscreen with SPF of at least 15 to protect the skin. Choose sunscreens that protect against both ultraviolet A and B rays. Sunscreens are available in many forms, such as lotions, creams and sprays. Apply it evenly over the skin that will be exposed to the sun, with particular attention to the nose, ears and neck. Lip balms or creams containing SPF 15 can protect your lips from getting sunburned. Use sunscreen in the amount recommended on the container’s label. Generally, you need one ounce of sunscreen for one adult. Ideally, you should apply the sunscreen at least 30 minutes before sun exposure. Remember to reapply every two or three hours, and don’t forget to reapply after swimming or sweating. Sunscreen is recommended on both sunny and cloudy days.
• Need a cover up: Cover ups — such as lightweight, loose fitting clothing with a tight weave that covers the arms and legs — are the best. Wear a hat with a brim at least three to four inches wide. Sunglasses are very fashionable, and they remain the best protection for your eyes. The best sunglasses are the ones that provide 97 percent to 100 percent protection against ultraviolet rays.
Because children and teenagers spend a lot of time playing outdoors, it is not surprising that the most sun exposure in one’s lifetime occurs in the first 18 years of age. Although there are benefits to being outdoors in the sun — such as generating vitamin D — it is also important to prevent skin damage from too much sun exposure. If you remember to follow the SUN guidelines, being outdoors can still be fun — as well as safe.
Dr. April Lee is the director of Adolescent Medicine for the Department of Pediatrics at Staten Island University Hospital.