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Healthy Living

Summer Skincare for Kids

While sunshine is an important ingredient for the summer experience, being outdoors may lead to the deceiving "healthy glow" of summer and the decidedly unhealthy summer sunburn. The dangers of sun exposure -- especially in childhood -- are well documented. And because, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the majority of a person's sun exposure occurs before age 20, protecting your children's vulnerable skin from the sun now can help them reduce their risk of skin cancer and skin aging down the road.

Sunburn is caused by ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) rays. While children with pale skin are most likely to burn, even dark-skinned children can burn if they are out in the sun long enough. Skin rarely scars immediately after a sunburn, but there is a heavy price to pay in the long run: Sunburning or overtanning can cause most forms of skin cancer (malignant melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) as well as many of the signs of skin aging (wrinkles, liver spots and white splotches). Even one or two blistering sunburns in childhood can significantly increase a child's risk for developing skin cancer later in life, according to the AAD.

All children, regardless of age, should stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, roughly between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., when 70 percent of harmful ultraviolet radiation occurs. Other protection guidelines depend on the age of your child.

Children under 6 months of age

Newborn skin is extra sensitive. Up until this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that parents avoid using sunscreen on infants 6 months and under, since the effects of its use on babies this age were not yet known. However, their new policy, based on evidence showing there is no harmful effect of sunscreen use on kids this age (published in this month's journal of the AAP, Pediatrics) allows for minimal use of sunscreen. It's still best to keep babies up to 6 months old out of the sun completely. When this is not possible, however, you can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen to small areas, such as the face and the back of the hands. In addition, you should take the following precautions:

  • Cover your baby in a tightly woven, light-colored cotton outfit. Light colors are better because they deflect, rather than absorb, the sun's rays and therefore keep your infant from overheating. Be careful, however, not to cover your infant in too much clothing, as babies easily overheat.

  • Make sure your infant is wearing a wide-brimmed hat or is covered with a canopy.

  • Buy a solar tent. These easy-to-set-up tents can be purchased for a reasonable price ($30 to $50) from most sporting or camping stores and are large enough to fit one adult and a small child. The beauty of a portable tent for parents of more than one child is that you can sit under the tent with your baby while your older children run around in the sun.

Six months and older

Once a child is 6 months old, you can safely use sunscreens according to the manufacturers recommendations. But all sunscreens are not equal -- read the labels carefully. Here's what you should look for:

  • Make sure the sunscreen has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. This means that the time it takes to burn is at least 15 times what it would be without sunscreen.

  • Make sure that it has "broad-spectrum" protection, which means it blocks UVA as well as most UVB radiation. Lotions that block UVA radiation must contain either titanium dioxide, oxybenzone or dioxybenzone.

  • Titanium dioxide is the preferred ingredient for children because it blocks the most dangerous rays. It leaves a pasty white layer on the skin temporarily, but this should not bother most kids.

  • Avoid lotions that contain PABA (p-aminobenzoic acid). A fair number of people have PABA allergies, and it can permanently stain clothes. Octyl methoxycinnamate, the most common UVB protector approved for kids, usually does not cause an allergic reaction.

Rub the lotion liberally all over your child's body 30 minutes before the first sun exposure of the day and then every two hours thereafter. Remember to reapply after swimming even if the bottle says "waterproof."

As with infants, have your child wear a broad-brimmed hat and a t-shirt. If your child is constantly ripping off his or her hat, then try one that ties under the chin. If your child is old enough, let him or her pick out his own hat (a favorite hat will stay on longer). Also, as "uncool" as it looks, try to encourage your child to swim with a t-shirt on; many of the most concentrated rays are reflected off the water. Sports shops now sell UV-protected, full-body swimsuits that look like lightweight wetsuits. These provide great sun protection and come in an array of hip colors. You should especially consider buying one of these if your child is fair-skinned.

Sunburn anyway?

Sometimes, despite everyone's best efforts, sunburns happen. Here's what you can do to help ease your child's discomfort:

  • Cool wet facecloths placed on the burn area usually provide relief from the burning sensation. For older children, a bag of frozen vegetables (peas work well) can be used. (Do not place anything frozen on an infant's skin.)

  • Baking soda and water or aloe vera cream are natural remedies that can help cool and soothe the skin.

  • Some people find a low-dose (0.5 percent to 1 percent) hydrocortisone cream to be helpful in reducing the burning sensation and speeding up healing.

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