Tips for a Healthy Day at the Beach

Time for More Sunscreen

A half hour into the trip, Dr. Alvarez Connelly calls the kids over for sandwiches, raisins, and trail mix. Lunch has a dual purpose. "It gets them under the umbrella and lets me dry them off and reapply sunscreen while they're distracted with something else," she says. "Abigail is at the hardest age now that she's swimming because she doesn't like to go in the water with a hat anymore."

She tells me about a study that was done at the University of Colorado. It showed that for every waterside vacation a family took when their kids were 1 to 7 years old, the kids had 5 percent more moles (a risk factor for skin cancer) despite using sun protection. "The parents likely didn't use enough sunscreen or reapply it often," says Dr. Alvarez Connelly.

I admit to her that last year my fair-skinned 6-year-old daughter had a discernible tan line by July despite the fact that I slathered on lotion. "How much damage did I do?" I asked.

"If she tanned gradually and didn't burn, it's not ideal but probably okay," reassures Dr. Alvarez Connelly. Her prescription: Get her a cute rash guard (to make it more comfortable, buy it a size bigger than usual because they're generally tight-fitting) and a swim skirt to cover some of her legs. We should also reapply sunscreen every 30 minutes when she's in and out of the water, and use sunscreen every single day, not just when we're going to the pool or park. "A lot of parents blow it off when it's not especially hot out yet," she says. "But you can get a sunburn when it's 60 degrees F just as you can when it's 90 degrees F."

If school-age girls are at the most difficult stage, what's easy? "Babies," says Dr. Alvarez Connelly, without hesitation. "The lowest rates of sunburn are in infants under 1 because you protect them with clothing, strollers, and other forms of shade."

After Matthew picks the M&M's out of his trail mix, he's ready to go back in the water. But he threw his hat into the ocean before lunch; now it's soaked. So Dr. Alvarez Connelly gives him Lucas's hat. A few minutes later, Lucas is done and says, "Mommy, I need my hat to play." Dr. Alvarez Connelly removes hers, adjusts it, and puts it on him. "Oh well," she says. "Everything can't be perfect. Next time, I'll remember to pack extra hats."

Originally published in the June 2010 issue of Parents magazine.

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