July 8, 2009
It’s that time of year once again when it is especially important to be careful about young people’s exposure to the sun. It is common knowledge that prolonged exposure to the sun can be very dangerous, especially for young children. In fact, excessive sun exposure during the first 20 years of life is a key risk factor for all types of skin cancer, so being careful can reap rewards over a lifetime.
Those most at risk are people with blond, red, or light brown hair, light-colored eyes, and fair skin. Dark-skinned people have a much lower incidence of skin cancer, but should still be careful about over-exposure.
This is a good time to remember commonsense precautions to take when children are out playing in the sun. Infants up to six months of age should be kept out of the sun altogether, or at least shaded from it completely. For younger children, it’s best to use a milky or gel type of sunscreen instead of a lotion that could sting when applied.
The wisest preventive measure is to apply sunscreen liberally with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30, at least 30 minutes before going into the sun, and then re-apply at the intervals recommended by the product. It’s also a good idea to use an opaque sunscreen, like zinc oxide, on those sensitive areas on the nose, lips, and tips of the ears. Many people forget to apply sunscreen to their toes, and a burn there can be particularly painful for children.
If possible, it’s best to have children avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun is its most intense. If that’s not possible, they should use a hat and protective clothing, with extra sunscreen. Sun exposure is particularly dangerous at high altitudes and in areas with reflective surfaces, like water or sand.
In Santa Barbara County, it’s especially important to remember that a cloud cover only partially blocks harmful radiation, and skin won’t necessarily feel warm until it is too late.
In short, it’s a good idea to take commonsense precautions in the sun, especially with children.