Sun Safety Tips for Kids

June 28, 2002
News Office: Eve Harris (415) 885-7277

Summer -- the season for fun in the sun -- is an important time to protect children against severe skin damage. It's estimated that 80 percent of the sun exposure your child will get during his or her lifetime will occur before age 18. Excessive sun exposure leads to early aging of the skin and increased risk of skin cancer. Just one severe sunburn can increase your child's odds of developing melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

At UCSF Children's Hospital, pediatric dermatologists, nurses and other health professionals are experts in treating children's skin diseases. Pediatric dermatology nurse Louise Crotwell says children average three times more sun exposure than adults and require special attention when it comes to sun protection. It is critical that good sun protection habits begin early in childhood, she says.

The following are some tips for protecting children from the sun:

Avoid Mid-day Sun: Try to limit the time your child spends in the sun when the sun's rays are strongest -- between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Even on cloudy or overcast days, damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays penetrate clouds and can cause skin damage. On cloudy days, children often aren't aware they're being sun burned because cooler temperatures or breezes cool their skin.

Infant Protection: Infants burn more easily than older children because they have thinner skin and underdeveloped melanin or skin pigment. Sunscreen should not be applied to babies under six months of age because of their sensitive skin. These infants should be kept out of the sun when possible or dressed in protective clothing.

Use Sunscreen: For children six months of age and older, use sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher. For teens, there are alcohol-based gels and liquids that won't exacerbate acne. Look for "non-comedogenic" on the label.

When applying sunscreen, be sure to:

  • Choose a "broad-spectrum" sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Avoid sunscreens with PABA, which cause allergic reactions in some children. If your child has sensitive skin, there are sunscreens with the active ingredient titanium dioxide, a chemical-free block.
  • Apply sunscreen generously about 30 minutes before going outside so that the sunscreen bonds with your child's skin. Cover lips, hands, ears feet, neck and shoulders.
  • Reapply every two hours. Reapply after sweating or swimming.
  • Apply a waterproof sunscreen if your child is going swimming. Reapply sunscreen when your child comes out of the water and after wiping dry with a towel.

Cover Up: Encourage your child to wear a hat, long pants and a shirt with long sleeves when playing outdoors. Tightly woven fabrics provide better protection against UV rays. If you plan to spend all day in the sun, bring a long-sleeved shirt and long pants as well as a beach umbrella for shade.

Wear Protective Sunglasses: Buy sunglasses for your child that provide 100 percent UV protection. Children often don't like to wear sunglasses, so try to select a style that your child likes. Continued sun exposure can lead to cataracts later in life.

Check Out Medications: Some medications increase skin sensitivity to UV rays. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any of your child's prescriptions, especially antibiotics and acne medications, or any over-the-counter medications your child is taking, can increase sun sensitivity. If so, take extra sun precautions or keep your child indoors during peak hours for sun. Even sunscreen can't always protect skin from sun sensitivity caused by medications.

Set an Example: Kids learn by example. Remember to practice the sun protection measures you advocate for your child. If you practice good sun safety habits, your child is more likely to do the same.

To contact Pediatric Dermatology at the Mount Zion location of UCSF Children's Hospital, please call (415) 353-7800. The clinic is located at 1701 Divisadero St., on the third floor, in San Francisco. For help finding a doctor, please contact the Physician Referral Center by calling toll free at (888) 689-UCSF or (888) 689-8273.