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Children and Sun

Sun ProtectionA bad sunburn in childhood may increase your risk of developing skin cancer later in life. (Read about "Skin Cancer") So it's important for parents to protect their children from too much sun exposure. That's not always easy, since outdoor sports and playing take up a lot of a child's time, especially in summer.

Even a cloudy day can be a problem. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), 60 to 80 percent of the sun's rays can get through clouds and can reach swimmers at least one foot below the surface of the water. The sun's rays can also reflect off water, snow and white sand.

Although you can't stop the sun, AAFP says there are ways to reduce a child's risk of excess sun exposure:


Although some studies indicate that sunscreens don't offer as much cancer protection as once thought, sunscreens can at least help prevent painful sunburns. (Read about "Sunscreen") The American Medical Association says most doctors recommend a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protective factor) of at least 15. Although SPF technically indicates how many times longer a person can stay in the sun while using the product, the American Cancer Society (ACS) cautions against using sunscreen simply to prolong sun exposure. Instead, ACS advises people to use protective clothing and avoid excessive midday sun exposure in the first place. Sunscreen should be used when sun exposure can't be avoided and in such cases, ACS suggests consumers look for "broad-spectrum" sunscreens that protect against two types of radiation: UVA and UVB. In addition, sunblocks (opaque forms of protection such as zinc oxide) are also considered effective.

Using sunscreen correctly

To find sunscreens that screen out both UVA and UVB sunrays, read the label carefully. Waterproof sunscreen can also be helpful if children are swimming. ACS says sunscreen works best when it's applied about a half hour before going outside and then re-applied at least every two hours. When applying sunscreen to the face, make sure a child's eyes are closed to avoid getting the lotion in the eyes. (Read about "The Eye")

Ask your pediatrician about the kind of ingredients that are most appropriate for your child's age and skin type, especially for children younger than 2 years of age. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, children under six months of age should be protected by avoiding excessive sun exposure, not with sunscreen. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says sunscreen is better then no sun protection at all. Covering the child with clothing is still the best option, but the AAP now says a small amount of sunscreen on the back of the hands and the face may be safe. Again, ask your pediatrician.

Remember, sun damage is cumulative. The more exposure we get as children, the higher our risk of skin problems later on. But the risk of sun exposure doesn't stop when we get older, so precautions are a good idea for everyone in the family - regardless of age. (Read about "Skin Care") You should also keep in mind that any areas of skin that have been sutured (stitches) are especially susceptible to scarring from excessive sun exposure.

Supplements needed

Sunscreen, however, prevents the skin from making vitamin D. (Read about "Vitamins & Minerals") AAP recommends that all children, beginning in the first few days of life, get vitamin D supplementation to prevent rickets (Read about "Osteomalacia & Rickets") and vitamin D deficiency. Concerns are growing as recent studies are showing an increase of rickets, particularly in urban areas. Rickets is a result of insufficient exposure to sunlight and inadequate vitamin D intake. By the time rickets is diagnosed the damage is often done. Sunlight can be a major source of vitamin D, but sunlight exposure is difficult to measure. Factors such as the amount of pigment in a baby's skin, and skin exposure, affect how much vitamin D the body produces from sunlight. Exclusively breastfed (Read about "Breastfeeding") infants are at increased risk of vitamin D deficiency and rickets, according to AAP. This is because human milk typically contains only small amounts of vitamin D, insufficient to prevent rickets.

For those over the age of one, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends, depending on age, sex and other health issues, between 600 and 800 international units (IUs) of vitamin D per day to maintain health. You should discuss with your healthcare provider what your child's needs are. For those over the age of one, IOM also says the upper intake level for vitamin D is between 2500 and 4000 IUs per day. Once again, it depends on age and other health factors how much vitamin D your child should be getting. Upper intake levels represent the upper safe boundary and should not be misunderstood as amounts people need or should strive to consume, according to IOM.

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All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.

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By printing and/or reading this article, you agree that you accept all terms and conditions of use, as specified online.