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Learning About Sun Damage and Your Child's Skin

How does the sun affect your child's skin?

Most kids love to play outdoors in the sun. It can be good for them. But getting too much of the ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight damages skin cells, which can lead to skin cancer later in life. And too much tanning, by the sun or from a tanning bed, can cause future wrinkles and discoloured skin.

People get most of their lifetime sun exposure in their first 18 years. Some of the damage done by UV rays during childhood might not appear for many years in the future. But you can help prevent it by protecting your child from the sun and teaching healthy habits now.

Age and skin type affect how easily your child becomes sunburned. A child's skin is more sensitive to sunlight. And the lighter your child's skin is, the more easily it can be damaged by the sun. But everyone can benefit from protecting their skin from the sun, regardless of skin colour.

The amount of skin damage your child can get from sunlight depends on:

  • The time of day. Your child is more likely to get a sunburn in the middle of the day when the sun is most intense. You might think that exposure to the sun isn't a problem on cloudy days, but the sun's UV rays can still pass through clouds.
  • Whether your child is near reflective surfaces, such as water, white sand, concrete, snow, or ice. All of these reflect the sun's UV rays.
  • The season of the year. The intense sunlight of summer days can cause more damage than the sunlight in other seasons.

How can you protect your child's skin from the sun?

Most damage to the skin can be prevented. Use the following tips to protect your child's skin.

Avoid exposure to the sun

  • Keep babies younger than 12 months out of the sun. Do not use sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months old.
  • Have your child spend as little time as possible in direct sunlight between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon. Try to keep him or her in the shade.
  • Have your child wear clothing that blocks the sun. This can be a wide-brimmed hat that covers the neck, ears, eyes, and scalp. It can also include loose-fitting, tightly-woven clothes that cover the arms and legs.
  • Have your child wear sunglasses that block UV rays.

Apply sunscreen to exposed skin

  • Always put sunscreen on your child's exposed skin, but do not use sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months old. Make sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen and lip balm that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Use it every day, even when it is cloudy.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before your child goes out in the sun. Put on more every 2 to 3 hours while your child is in the sun and after he or she sweats a lot or swims.
  • Take extra care to protect your child's skin when he or she is near water, at higher elevations, or in tropical climates.
  • Use a broad-spectrum lip balm or cream that has SPF of 30 to protect your child's lips from getting sunburned.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.