Summer Skin Care for Kids
Dark-colored, protective clothing, followed by sun blocks and sunscreens, are the best ways to protect your kids from sunburn.
By Jeanie Lerche Davis
Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson
The sun's rays are risky for all of us, above all for infants, toddlers, children, and teens. Early exposure to too much sun and childhood sunburns can lead to skin cancer over time. By protecting your child's skin, especially in the summer, you can help prevent sunburn -- and greatly cut skin cancer risk later on.
In sunny Miami, where it's summertime most of the time, the sun lovers' safety rules are critical, says Elizabeth Alvarez Connelly, MD, professor of dermatology and pediatrics at the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami.
She and her 1-year-old daughter put in lots of beach time. "I was so proud ? before she turned 6 months, she wore her hat at the beach ? the perfect dermatologist's daughter," Connelly tells WebMD. "Then at about 6 months, she learned how to take it off!"
That's risky, because sunburn is risky. Too much of the sun's ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) rays burn the skin, which over time can lead to basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer. Severe sunburn in a child younger than age 18 raises the risk of melanoma later in life. Sunburns can also age the skin over time, bringing on wrinkles, liver spots, and white splotches.
"We've found if you teach kids early on to protect their skin, they'll continue as they get older," says Adelaide Hebert, MD, director of pediatric dermatology at The University of Texas Medical School in Houston (another near-tropical city with plenty of sunshine).
At Galveston Beach, in backyard pools, and at sports fields, "it's easiest to get smaller kids to wear protective clothing," Hebert tells WebMD. Everything's colorful these days, which makes it fun to wear protective shirts. "The little bitty kids love to wear those surf suits and swim shirts. My son puts his shirt on, a little bit of sunscreen, and he's out in the pool in minutes."
When it comes to older kids and teens, sunscreen and cover-ups are just as important, even though getting that tanned look is as popular as ever. But, adds Hebert, tanning booths are strictly taboo. "It's true, a tan is a healthy look. The only safe way is a sprayed-on 'mystic tan' or one applied with a lotion, such as Coppertone, Clinique, Ban de Soleil. There are lots of self-tanners out there. Suntanning and tanning booths are just not safe."
Rules for Smart Summer Skin Care
Some basic sun protection rules will help you keep your children safe.
Rule No. 1: Stay inside or in the shade between 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Midday, when the sun's rays are strongest, babies and children should stay indoors, or out of the sun at least. Even on cloudy, hazy days, protect against the sun. "There's more risk of sunburn at the beach, because of water reflection and wind," adds Hebert.
Rule No. 2: All children are at risk. While pale kids are most likely to burn, darker-skinned children can also burn if they stay in the sun too long.
Rule No. 3: Dress your kids in protective clothing. This, even more than sunscreen, is the best weapon against too much sun. "Babies younger than 1 year, before they are mobile, need to get as much sun protection as possible from their clothing -- long cotton pants, long sleeves," says Connelly.