Stay safe in the sun

Being outdoors is great for children, but the sun can cause painful sunburns and long-term harm to their skin if not properly protected. Use these helpful tips to keep your family safe in the sun.

With warmer weather heading toward Michigan, many families will soon take to the outdoors. While out in the fresh air it is important to protect each member of the family from the sun and its damaging rays. Being outdoors is great for children, but the sun can cause painful sunburns and long-term harm to their skin if not properly protected. Using a combination of sunscreen and appropriate clothing and accessories is a great way for both adults and children to enjoy being outdoors without the risk of getting a bad burn.

The many choices of sunscreens can make it difficult to choose the best one for each member of the family. There are two important considerations when choosing a sunscreen: the sun protection factor (SPF) and the type of sunlight it protects against. The SPF is a number that tells how long the product will protect against the sun’s rays. For example, an SPF 15 will allow a person to stay out in the sun 15 times longer than a person without sunscreen. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using sunscreen with at least an SPF 15. A higher SPF doesn’t mean that the product is better than others; it simply means that a higher percentage of sun burning rays are deflected. 

The second consideration for sunscreen is the type of sunlight it protects against. The sun gives two different kinds of rays: ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA). UVB rays are more powerful and increase the likeliness of burns. UVA rays are less powerful, but penetrate the skin deeper. They are also considered the causes of wrinkling and leathering in the skin. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen containing protection against both UVA and UVB rays, commonly called broad-spectrum protection. Broad-spectrum sunscreen cannot guarantee protection against all UVB and UVA rays, but it does decrease the likelihood of burning. 

In addition to using sunscreen, there are other ways to make sure your family is safe in the sun. Follow these helpful tips to help prevent your family from burning:

Children from birth to six months

  • Children in this age group should not be exposed to direct sunlight; an infant’s skin is sensitive and doesn’t take long to burn. Provide constant shade by using umbrellas, stroller covers or lightweight blankets.
  • Dress your infant in lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and wide-brimmed hats.
  • Only use a minimal amount of sunscreen on babies to provide temporary coverage if clothing and shade aren’t available. Sunscreen used on babies under six months can irritate their skin, especially if it contains PABA.
  • Check with your baby’s pediatrician before using sunscreen on an infant younger than six months old.

Children six months and older

  • Use UVA/UVB SPF 15+ sunscreen when children go outside to play. Use sunscreen even on cloudy days.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before your child goes outside to play.
  • Find a shady area to play outside or avoid lots of sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when the sun is the hottest and most intense.
  • Children should wear hats and sunglasses to protect their faces and eyes from the sun’s rays.
  • Put sunscreen on the tops of ears, feet and head. Don’t forget the scalp, too.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
  • Use sunscreen that contains PABA with caution, as it may irritate sensitive skin.

In addition to applying sunscreen and wearing appropriate clothing, be sure to check the expiration date on any bottle of sunscreen. Generally, sunscreens have a shelf life of two years before they begin to separate and become less effective. Also, avoid storing sunscreen in direct sunlight or high temperatures, as either can decrease its effectiveness. By taking these precautions for everyone in the family, it can help ensure that time spent outdoors will be a safe experience for everyone.

To find out more information about sunscreen protection and other helpful sun safety resources, please visit the Skin Cancer Foundation website at ( 

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