NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. – The desert sun can be dangerous to anyone within its reach, but children’s skin is more vulnerable to harmful ultraviolet rays than the average adult.
“Children, and particularly infants, have a thinner outer skin layer than adults which can lead to increased absorption of harmful UV rays from the sun,” said Maj. (Dr.) Jeremy Granger 99th Medical Operations Squadron element chief of pediatrics. “Children’s pigment producing cells are also more susceptible to damage due to their higher metabolic rate.”
Many parents feel that sunlight is natural and therefore not harmful, said Granger. While it is true that sunlight facilitates the production of Vitamin D it does have significant risks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, both short and long term side effects can result from as little as 15 minutes of sun exposure. Just a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of health issues later in life.
Children’s skin needs protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays whenever they’re outdoors. Children don’t have to be at the pool, beach or in direct sunlight to get too much sun.
Children still need protection while it’s cool and cloudy. According to the CDC clouds do not block UV rays, they only filter them and sometimes only slightly.
There are several ways to protect children from the sun.
“The best way to protect children from the sun is to avoid direct sunlight, especially between peak hours of 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.,” Granger said. “Seeking shade is helpful but can still expose you to scattered light rays.”
“We recommend that children under six months avoid direct sunlight,” Granger said. “If [they] are unable to avoid direct sunlight you may apply a small amount of sun screen to sun-exposed areas.”
The CDC recommends that children over six months old should use sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and UVA and UVB protection every time they go outside.
For the best protection, apply sunscreen generously 30 minutes before going outdoors.
Infection and permanent damage can result from not properly taking care of sunburn once it has occurred.
“The signs of sunburn usually appear six to 12 hours after exposure, with the greatest discomfort during the first 24 hours,” Granger said. “If your child’s burn is just red, warm and painful, you can treat it yourself by applying a cool compress to the burned areas or bathing the child in cool water.”
“Avoid direct application of ice as this can contribute to cell damage as well,” he said.
“If the sunburn causes blisters, fever, chills, headache or a general feeling of illness, call your pediatrician,” he said. “Severe sunburn must be treated like any other serious burn, and if it’s very extensive, hospitalization sometimes is required.”
With children’s vulnerability to the sun, it is important for parents to keep them protected from the sun in order to strengthen their chance of a healthy future.