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Practicing Sun Safety for the Whole Family

Living in Southern California, we are exposed to sunshine nearly year-round. The warm weather makes it ideal for enjoying outdoor activities, but don’t forget to slather on the sunscreen to protect you and your family against damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Prevention against sun damage should really begin at birth. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping babies under the age of 6 months out of the sun altogether. Dress your baby in protective clothing, such as lightweight long-sleeved, tight-weaved shirts and pants, wide brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses, to limit sun exposure and keep them in shaded areas especially during the peak intensity hours of 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

With older children, you should still be mindful of sun exposure taking similar precautions to cover their skin, but you can also add in sunscreen as an extra layer of protection.

When selecting a sunscreen for your family, choose one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, has an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15+, and comes with the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation on the bottle. If you are looking for an all-natural option, choose a sunscreen that contains a mineral blocker like zinc oxide.

Another important lesson is to use the correct amount of sunscreen -- and reapply generously. Most individuals are only using about a fourth of the recommended amount. A good 20 minutes before going out into the sun use approximately 1-ounce of sunscreen all over your body - and don’t forget the ears, lips and scalp, which can sometimes be forgotten! Reapply it every two hours, or more often if you are swimming or sweating.

Even if your teen insists on getting a great tan this summer, remind them that no one is too young to take precautions against skin cancer. There’s a direct correlation between the more blistering sunburns you experience and an increased risk of cancer later in life. Being tan does not mean being healthy.

Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is on the rise in both adults and children. A 2013 study published in the journal Pediatrics suggested that diagnoses are rising among teenagers by as much as 2% each year. Especially if you have the risk factors of melanoma, such as family history, blonde or red hair, and blue or green eyes, it’s crucial that you take the precautions to protect your skin.

Even if you are doing your best to practice sun safety, the occasional sunburn is virtually unavoidable. To care for your skin, apply a cool compress to the affected area and assess the sunburn six hours after exposure. If the burn blisters or is accompanied by fever or chills, call your pediatrician.

Whether your family is headed to the beach or playing in the backyard, be sure to keep sun safety at the top of your mind this summer.

Meet the Author

Kristy Tolly MD, FAAP

Specialty: Pediatrics
Areas of Interest: Adolescent Medicine, Growth & Development

Dr. Tolly has experience treating children of all ages and has been practicing for over 18 years. Her goal is to serve as a resource for her patients and be accessible to their parents. As she states it best, “I care about my patients and invest in each and every one of them. I make sure to take the time to listen and be a partner in their health care.” View Bio [+]