Growing up in Texas, I learned the hard way that a casual attitude toward sun exposure can turn into a real emergency. I was 13 when a day in the sun turned into sun poisoning that left me with nausea, disorientation and open blisters. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, even one such blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles the risk of melanoma later in life. As a result of my experience and my present concerns about skin cancer, I firmly believe that we parents need to take our kids' sun exposure seriously.
According to pediatrician Dr. Doug Curtiss, childhood sun exposure isn't just a cause of problems later in life. "The most common summer skin issue I see in my practice is sunburn," he said. "Sometimes sunburns can turn dangerous, like when a young infant is affected, or if a sunburn starts to blister."
Thankfully, he explained, protecting your child's skin from the sun is a simple task if you know how to avoid unnecessary exposure and adequately protect your child's sensitive skin from harsh rays. "First of all, parents need to help their kids avoid the sun altogether during the mid-day hours," he said. "If kids must go outside, parents should limit exposed areas with protective clothing." Also, keep in mind that there is a caveat for babies under 6 months of age: If you're the parent of an infant, you should keep your baby completely out of the sun's rays, since a baby's skin is particularly vulnerable and even a mild sunburn can be dangerous.
Curtiss also explained that parents should apply sunscreen liberally every hour throughout the day, and that they should use a moderate strength product (SPF 12-30) for most children. "Look for a hypoallergenic sunscreen without a lot of perfumes or colors, like Cetaphil or Aquaphor," he said.
Of course, even the most vigilant parents sometimes forget to reapply sunscreen or limit exposure from time to time. If your child has a sunburn, you can treat symptoms at home with a mild moisturizer or aloe vera. Most cases will resolve in a few days. "Bring your child to the doctor if symptoms don't improve within a few days of home treatment," said Curtiss. "You should also notify your doctor if your child complains of a headache, severe pain or if you notice oozing blisters."
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