Sun Care 101: The Basics of Sun Safety for Kids

More Ways to Protect Kids from the Sun

Does my child really need to wear sunscreen in the winter or on overcast days?

Up to 80 percent of UV rays penetrate clouds and reflect off sand, water, snow, and even concrete. "Kids actually may be more exposed to UV rays on cool days because they stay outside longer," Dr. Mariwalla says. Basic sun protection tips -- clothing that covers arms and legs, wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen -- still apply.

Will my child get enough vitamin D if she's always wearing sunscreen?

Your child needs vitamin D to help his body absorb calcium and build strong bones, and sunshine is a great source. Studies suggest that infants and children don't get enough D (perhaps due to increased sunscreen use). That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all kids -- from newborns to teens -- get 400 international units (IUs) of vitamin D supplements a day. If supplementation is necessary, look for liquid-drop solutions for nursing and formula-fed infants and toddlers, and chewable vitamins for children age 3 and older.

My family has dark skin. Do we need to worry about sun protection?

"It's a fallacy that people with dark skin are immune to skin cancer," Dr. Mariwalla says. Although skin cancer affects between 1 and 4 percent of African Americans, Latinos, and Asians, it's often deadlier because it goes undetected longer (and rates among Asians are rising). In dark skin, cancer can also lurk in areas that aren't exposed to the sun, like the palms of hands, soles of feet, and mucous membranes.

Besides sunscreen, what else can I do to protect my family?

Keep your child out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UVB rays are most intense. Dress him in clothing that have a UV protection of at least SPF 30 or that have a tight weave (you shouldn't be able to see easily through it) and make sure he wears sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats that protect his face, ears, and neck. Seek shade as much as possible.

Should my child wear sunglasses?

The skin around the eyes is vulnerable to UV damage too, so children should wear sunglasses starting at 6 months. Look for child-size sunglasses that offer at least 99 percent UVA and UVB protection, cover as much skin as possible (wraparound styles are great), and are impact- or shatter-resistant.

When should I start checking my child's skin for changes, and what should I look for?

The odds of your child developing skin cancer are low (about 3 percent for melanoma per The Skin Cancer Foundation), and it's normal for new moles to appear and to change in size and color as your child grows. Still, it's wise for you (and eventually your child) to become familiar with her skin so you identify any changes immediately. "Look over your child's skin while doing diaper changes or giving baths. Get to know her moles," Dr. Leachman says. Be on the lookout for moles that are: asymmetrical (one side's different than the other); a mix of brown, tan and black colors; bigger than a pencil eraser; notched, uneven, or blurry-looking around the borders; itching or bleeding. "The earlier you and your child start self skin checks, the more likely it'll become a lifelong -- potentially life-saving -- habit for her," Dr. Leachman says.

At what age should my child see a dermatologist?

Children who have a parent or sibling with melanoma have a 50 percent greater chance of developing the disease, which is why The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that they see a dermatologist starting at age 10 for twice-yearly skin exams (parents should check their children's skin regularly starting at infancy). Otherwise, the visits can wait until adulthood unless you notice a questionable skin change.

What should I do if my child gets sunburned?

Call the pediatrician if your child is under age 1 or if she's older than 1 and has blisters, severe pain, lethargy, or a fever higher than 101? degrees. Ibuprofen and cool baths or moist compresses can lessen pain, swelling, and itching. (Never give aspirin to children, as it can cause a rare but serious metabolic disease called Reye's syndrome.) Keep your child out of the sun until the burn is healed. For more relief, check out the all-natural sunburn remedies below.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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