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Public Health Essentials

A place to highlight the work of the Snohomish Health District as well as share health-related information and tips. Have an idea or question? Drop us a line at SHDInfo@snohd.org.

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Jul 11

N is for No Sunburns Allowed

Posted on July 11, 2022 at 2:01 PM by Kari Bray

This is Part 14 in a multi-week series of blogs focused on the ABC’s for Healthy Kids. Learn more at www.snohd.org/healthykids.  

Top Three Take-Aways:  

  1. Ultraviolet rays from sunlight can damage skin and eyes. Plan for protection when you and your family are outside. 
  2. Good ways to reduce sun exposure include moving to shaded areas, putting on sunscreen, and dressing in lightweight clothes that cover skin. 
  3. Don’t rely on just one strategy to keep your family safe in the sun. Shade, sunscreen and style work best when you use them all together. 

Safe in the sun 

Sunny days can be golden days for children and teens.  

Just don’t let too much sun cause serious problems. 

Ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight can damage the skin and eyes with intense or prolonged exposure. Mom putting sunscreen on daughter

Short-term, too much sun exposure can lead to the miserable heat and discomfort of a nasty sunburn.  

Long-term, the damage builds up. Sun exposure is a leading risk factor for skin cancer. It’s one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the U.S. It’s also largely preventable. 

Much of our lifetime total of sun exposure happens when we are children and teens. Spending time outside is a big part of keeping kids healthy and happy, but it’s important to factor sun protection into your plans. 

There are lots of great “S” reminders to keep in mind for sun safety. Here are three to remember this summer. 

  • Shade 
  • Sunscreen 
  • Style 

Shade 

One of the best ways to make sure you don’t overdo sun exposure is to simply step out of the sunlight. Make sure kids take breaks from the sun by going inside or going into a shady spot. 

Shady pathPlan your day with the kids around when the sun and heat are most intense. Midday and late afternoon might be good times for indoor play, or to migrate to a fully shaded area.  

Try to make the most of morning hours before 10 a.m. or evenings after 4 p.m., when the intensity of the sun tends to be less than in the middle of the day. 

Avoid having infants 6 months or younger in direct sunlight. Find a shady spot or make some shade for your baby. You can use a stroller canopy if you’re walking, or a portable shelter or umbrella for days at the park or beach. 

You can also prepare for your day by checking how intense the sun is likely to be when you are out and about. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a website where you can look up the UV index in your area: UV Index Search | US EPA 

Sunscreen 

Put sunscreen on children (and yourself) before spending any length of time outside. Remind teens to use sunscreen, too, even if they’d rather not. 

Make sure to reapply often. 

Try to find broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Take a break from the sun every 2-3 hours to reapply sunscreen on all exposed skin. If playing in the water, you’ll need to reapply more frequently, even if the sunscreen is labeled waterproof.  

Don't miss areas that may become exposed as children play, such as underneath the straps of shirts or swimsuits or on the neck just under the collar of their shirt.  

Try to put sunscreen on at least 15 minutes before going outside so it has time to absorb and so children are less likely to wipe it off while playing. 

Always check the expiration date. Expired sunscreen can be much less effective than it originally was. Most sunscreens have a long shelf life, but be sure to buy new sunscreen if yours is past its end date or if the consistency, color or smell has changed noticeably from when you first got it.  Watery or chunky texture, for example, can indicate that the sunscreen is expired. 

Remember: Sunscreen is not just for sunny days – your skin needs protection on cloudy days, too. You also may need extra protection when around reflective surfaces. Sun can reflect off white sand, light-colored pavement, snow, or water, increasing your exposure. 

Family in tent on sunny dayStyle 

The way you dress your child on a sunny day may make all the difference in avoiding a nasty burn.  

Use clothing and layers effectively. A wide-brimmed hat can help protect a child’s head and face. Lightweight clothing with longer sleeves or pant legs are perfect for when kids will be in direct sunlight. Some swimwear also has sleeves and either shorts or pants, rather than exposing most of kids’ shoulders and legs to the sun. 

Remember that tightly woven fabrics offer more protection than loosely woven ones. To check, hold the fabric up to the light in your home and see if much light gets through. There are even some clothing options that are designed and sold specifically for UV protection.  

Don’t forget sunglasses to protect eyes. Let kids help pick out a pair of sunglasses they think is particularly cool. 

Take some time now to check off the “N” in the ABC’s for healthy kids. Do you have a plan for protecting your family from too much sun exposure? 

Remember shade, sunscreen, and style to help kids avoid short-term pain from sunburns and long-term complications like skin cancer.

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