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Protect your child from the sun

The Fourth of July is the peak of the summer season. This is the time of year when many families head outdoors to enjoy fun and festivities. And with a little precaution, you can be sure everyone stays safe from the sun's dangerous rays.

By learning more about sun safety, you can help protect your entire family and develop safe sun habits that can last a lifetime.

The sun is the main cause of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States. There will be a million new cases of skin cancer this year. Skin cancer can and does occur in children and young adults, but most of the people who get skin cancer are older. Your skin continues to be damaged by each sunburn and each suntan year after year. Older people get skin cancer because they already have received too much of the sun's damaging rays.

All skin cancers are harmful and some, especially malignant melanoma, can be deadly if left untreated. Malignant melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in women 25 to 34 years old. Sun exposure in early childhood and adolescence contributes to skin cancer.

Most of our sun exposure -- between 60 percent to 80 percent -- happens before we turn 18 years of age. That's because children spend more time outdoors than most adults, especially in the summer.

Research has shown two or more blistering sunburns as a child or teen increase the risk of developing skin cancer later in life. It is important, therefore, to protect babies and children from sunburn. Do this by making sun protection a regular family event. Parents can be the best examples by practicing sun protection themselves and teaching all members of the family how to protect their skin.

It's up to you to protect your child's skin. Sunburns hurt. Sunburns also can cause dehydration and fever. Too many sunburns and too much sun exposure over the years can cause not only skin cancer, but also wrinkles and possibly cataracts of the eye.

Babies younger than 6 months need extra protection from the sun. Babies have sensitive skin that is thinner than adult skin. This causes them to sunburn more easily than an adult. Keep babies out of direct sunlight -- move to the shade or under an umbrella or stroller canopy. Dress the baby in lightweight clothing that covers the body, including a hat with a brim to shade the face and ears.

For children older than 1 and all family members, the first -- and best -- line of defense against the sun is covering up. Wear a hat with a brim or bill to protect the child's face, sunglasses with UV protection to protect the child's eyes and lightweight clothing with a tight weave.

Choose sunscreen that is made for children. Apply at least 30 minutes before going outside and use sunscreen even on cloudy days. Before covering your child completely with a new product, test the sunscreen on your child's back for a reaction. Apply carefully around the eyes, avoiding the eyelids. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.

If your child gets a sunburn that results in blistering, pain or fever, contact your doctor.

This is a great holiday to enjoy some outdoor summer sun and fun. Just take precautions to do it safely.

Linda Beech is a Kansas State University Research & Extension agent in Ellis County specializing in family and consumer sciences. lbeech@ksu.edu