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Healthy Kids: Protect your skin from the sun

Steve Jespersen

On average, children receive three times more sun exposure than adults. And since the effects of the sun’s dangerous rays build over the years, even moderate exposure during childhood can contribute to wrinkling, toughening and freckling of the skin. It also increases their risk for cancer.

“Everybody thinks, because we live in Oregon, that we never get any sun,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw with Eugene Pediatric Associates. “And when we do get sun, the rate of people getting seriously burned is much higher and those severe sunburns put you at a high risk for getting skin cancer later.”

Dr. Bradshaw urges families to take these precautions:

  • Keep your kids out of the sun when peak ultraviolet rays occur, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Babies under six months of age should be kept out of direct sunlight.
  • If possible, have your children wear a hat, preferably with a wide brim.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing that covers the body if you know you are going to be in the sun.
  • Always use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

While sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher blocks 97-percent of the sun's rays, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) cautions that no sunscreen can block 100-percent of the sun's rays. Even if you are wearing a high-SPF sunscreen, it should be reapplied approximately every two hours when outdoors and after swimming or sweating.

Avoid tanning beds

Skin damage occurs whether a tan comes from the sun or from artificial light. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the UVR radiation produced by some tanning beds can be 10 to 15 times higher than the midday sun. Oregon law prohibits minors under the age of 18 from using tanning beds unless they have written permission from their doctor and a parent.

“Spray tans,” also known as “sunless” or “self-tanning” products, are sometimes used as a substitute for going outside or visiting a tanning salon. Sunless tanners use dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a chemical that reacts with amino acids in the top layer of the skin to form melanoidins, brown-black compounds which deposit in the skin. DHA is a mutagen that induces DNA strand breaks in certain strains of bacteria; it has not been shown to be carcinogenic in animal studies. DHA is the only color additive approved by the FDA for use as a tanning agent.

Don’t be fooled by the clouds

Many parents incorrectly assume that the sun is dangerous only when it’s shining brightly. It’s important to know, however, that invisible ultraviolet rays are harmful. In fact, your child may be exposed to more ultraviolet rays on foggy or hazy days, because he or she feels cooler and therefore stays outside longer. Exposure is also greater at higher altitudes.

In addition, be aware that some medications can cause a skin reaction to sunlight, and some medical conditions may make people more sensitive to the sun.

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