6 Tips for Safe Fun in the Sun

As a fair-skinned mom to three fair-skinned children, all of whom love to be outdoors, pediatrician and internal medicine physician Cara Vasconcelles, MD, is particularly attuned to proper sun protection.

“I usually start applying sunscreen whenever the kids can be outside – without a coat on – for longer than 10 to 15 minutes,” said Vasconcelles, who practices with Koke Mill Medical Associates, part of Memorial Physician Services. “If you can be outside for that long without a coat and are comfortable, that means it’s warm enough to get a sunburn.”

Research shows that with each significant sunburn a child experiences while younger than 18, their cancer risk increases greatly in adulthood.

“It’s important not to be afraid of the sun, but to use common sense and practical measures to keep kids and adults from getting a sunburn,” Vasconcelles said. She offers these tips for ensuring you and your children are protected from the sun’s harmful rays.

Pick the right sunscreen.

Use a lotion versus a spray sunscreen. Sprays are quicker and easier to put on children but don’t last as long and it’s easy to miss spots. Lotions can be spread evenly and cover areas you might miss otherwise – such as the face and ears.

Use a sunscreen with at least a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 and protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

An SPF of 30 means one can stay outside 30 times longer than a person without sunscreen before experiencing skin damage. Products with an SPF of 30 usually provide 90 minutes to three hours of protection depending on the wearer’s activity level.

Invest in a tear-free sunscreen for the face.

Sometimes people avoid applying sunscreen to their face because they don’t want to get it in their eyes, leaving them unprotected. Choosing a tear-free sunscreen can help put that concern at bay.

Consider putting a swim shirt on children.

Two of the main areas physicians find cancer are on the upper back or shoulders and chest or abdomen – all areas that a swim shirt with SPF can protect.

Apply sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before going swimming.

Putting sunscreen on before heading to the pool to allows it to thoroughly soak in.

Get each child his or her own bottle of sunscreen.

This comes in handy when your children go swimming or on an outing with friends.

If you or your child does experience a mild sunburn, use Tylenol and a cool compress to relieve discomfort. If you notice any blistering, especially on an area of skin larger than your palm, that’s indicative of a second-degree burn and worthy of a call to your physician. Also seek medical help if you are physically ill, nauseous and have a headache, as that can indicate sun poisoning.

Vasconcelles recommends seeing a dermatologist on an annual basis beginning around age 35, or earlier if you have a family history of skin cancer, very sensitive skin or a history of significant sunburns.