School is out for the summer! It may not yet officially be summer until June 21st, but here in West Texas our summer begins the last day of school. Families go on vacation to the beach, kids and adults alike lay out by the pool and swim all day. Instead of being in a classroom all day, many kids are outside playing, riding their bikes and playing in the water.
Sunlight is not “equal” in UV concentration. The intensity of the sun’s rays depends upon the time of year, as well as the altitude and latitude of your location. Here in the Northern Hemisphere the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are at their strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and are strongest during the summer season. Cloudy, cool, and overcast days may give a false sense of protection, because UV rays travel through the clouds and reflect off sand, water, snow and even concrete causing individuals to receive unexpected sunburn and skin damage. People are often unaware they are developing a sunburn on cooler or windy days because the temperature or breeze keeps the skin feeling cool on the surface.
UV rays can cause skin damage, eye damage, immune system suppression, and skin cancer. Most kids get most of their lifetime sun exposure before age 18, so it is important to be well aware of sun safety and by taking the right precautions, you can greatly reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.
Melanin is the body’s first line of defense against the sun because it absorbs dangerous UV rays before they do serious damage. Melanin is found in different concentrations and colors, resulting in different skin colors. The lighter someone’s natural skin color, the less melanin it has to absorb UV rays and protect itself.
The skins melanin will increase in response to sun exposure causing the skin to tan, but even a “healthy” tan could be a sign of sun damage. The risk of damage increases with the amount and intensity of exposure. Sunburn develops when the amount of UV exposure is greater than what can be protected against by the skin’s melanin.
Kids who have moles on their skin (or whose parents have a tendency to develop moles), have very fair skin and hair, and have a family history of skin cancer, including melanoma are at a higher risk if they have one or more of these high-risk factors.
By following some sun safety “rules”, kids and adults alike can enjoy a day in the sun. Avoid the strongest rays of the day. Remember we mentioned earlier that the strongest rays tend to be at their apex between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Cover up! One of the best ways to prevent damage to your skin is to cover up and shield skin from UV rays. You can be sure that clothes will screen out harmful UV rays by placing your hand inside the garment and making sure you can’t see it through them.
Because infants have thinner skin and underdeveloped melanin, their skin burns more easily. The best protection for babies under 6 months of age is shade.
Even older kids need to escape the sun. Bring along a wide umbrella or pop-up tent for all-day outdoor affairs. If it is not too hot outside and won’t make the kids uncomfortable, have them wear light long-sleeved shirts and/or long pants.
Use sunscreen constantly. Choosing a sunscreen can be tricky with the wide array of options available, but what matters most is the degree of protection it provides from UV rays.