Summer is almost here, and it is a wonderful time to get out of the house and be outdoors. When spending time outside with our families, it is important to remember to take steps to prevent sunburn, and reduce the risk of skin cancer in our children.
Here are some easy steps that you can take
1. Wear a t-shirt or rash guard.
Like this one here, many rash guards are SPF 50 and protect your child in places that would be more likely to get burned if they were wearing a traditional swimsuit. The more coverage offered by clothes, the less time you will spend lathering up squirmy little ones!
Keep in mind, though, that a white tee shirt offers only a SPF of 7, and when it’s wet, that protection is cut in half. Ideally, protective clothing and a sunscreen offer the best protection when outdoors.
2. A sun hat.
My daughter went through three or four different hats (thankfully hand-me-downs) before I found one that she was willing to keep on her head. A better option to putting sunscreen in your child’s hair is to use a sun hat as a barrier to protect their scalp from the sun. For my 11 month old, we found that a velcro chin strap helped keep the hat in place. Choose a hat made of a material that won’t make their head too hot and sweaty, and consider a waterproof hat if your child is going to wear it to the beach or pool.
3. Learn which SPF is best for you and your children.
Here’s the lowdown on SPF: multiply the time it would normally take you to get a sunburn by the SPF number, and that is how long you can stay outside without burning.
Say I normally would begin to burn in 10 minutes. If I wore an SPF 15 sunscreen, I would be “safe” for 150 minutes. If I wore an SPF of 30, I would be safe for 300 minutes. Of course, if you are sweating, in water, or don’t apply the sunscreen correctly, you will have to reapply more often. SPF’s higher than 45 are not necessarily more effective, because you will need to reapply after a few hours no matter what SPF you have.
4. Set a good example.
I inherited my father’s Scottish, easy-to-fry skin, and so my mother, who has a darker complexion had trouble explaining to me why I had to wear sunscreen when she didn’t. If your children see you applying sunscreen, and it is something you do together as a family, they will be more likely to accept it, or at least put up with the routine. Try making a game out of it. My Dad used to smear greasy white goop all over his nose and make us laugh. Form good habits when your child is young and hopefully, they will stick for life.
And, make every effort to avoid being out in the sunlight during the peak burning hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
5. Reapply often.
If you are running around and sweating, rolling in sand, or swimming, you will need to reapply your sunscreen sooner than the SPF tells you. Generally, all sunscreen wears off after a few hours so even if you are wearing a high SPF, you should be sure to reapply. When putting on sunscreen, make sure to remember places that are easy to forget like toes, ears, and the back of your neck. Put your first coat of sunscreen on 15 minutes prior to exposure, and apply liberally. Make sure to read the bottle for any additional instructions.
UPDATE: If you’re looking for an all natural sunscreen, here are 2 recipes to try:
1/4 cup coconut oil mixed with 20 drops of carrot seed essential oil
1/2 c. carrier oil of your choice (almond or coconut work well)
5 drops myrrh essential oil
5 drops carrot seed essential oil
20 drops lavender essential oil
With either recipe or any other DIY variation you try, be sure to test it out first with limited exposure to the sun. Both myrrh and carrot seed oils have a natural SPF, so depending on your family’s skin tones, you may want to increase the amounts used for a stronger SPF.
6. When sunburn does happen, take care of it right away.
A first degree sunburn can be treated with aloe vera, but a second and certainly third degree sunburn may need to be seen by a doctor. Make sure to keep the sunburned area hydrated by applying aloe or another soothing lotion a few times a day, and drink plenty of water. Watch out for signs of sun poisoning which include dizziness, nausea, fever and headache with a bad sunburn.
7. If you notice a suspicious looking growth or mole on yourself, take your child with you to the dermatologist.
It may be a pain to bring your child with you, but accompanying a parent to a doctor’s visit teaches good habits and is a great learning experience (homeschool field trip anyone?). If you are over the age of 25 and notice a new mole, or one that you have looks like it has changed shape, see a dermatologist for a mole check. Your pediatrician may recommend that your child gets his/her moles checked out, too. Discuss with your doctor the age at which you should begin getting these checks. Teaching your children about mole checks, and skin health early is a great way to set the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle.
For more tips from a skin cancer specialist, listen to The Survival Mom Radio Show here.
UPDATE: Because some of you asked about the possibility of sunscreens causing skin cancer, I asked Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, the oncologist I interviewed in the podcast linked to above about this.
QUESTION: From your experience with skin cancer patients and your own research, is there a correlation between the use of skin cancer and the use of sunscreens?
Dr. Gaynor: No, there isn’t. Sunscreen protects from sun burn, not skin cancer. Sunscreens do not cause skin cancer.
Guest Post by Michelle Brown who blogs at Oh the Simple Joys!
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