Sunburns are the Worst

As the summer season kicks into high gear, more and more of our fun activities move outdoors.   Summer brings with it images of bright and cheery kids, free of the schoolyard trap, playing and running around in the hot sun.  Families vacate to the beach for sandcastles and sunbathing. 

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As the bright outdoors is such a vital part of the family summer, it is super important to be mindful of the sun’s potential to do damage.  There are many things you can do to help prevent your child from falling prey to the ever insidious summer affliction: the sunburn.

A sunburn is a visible reaction of the skin to ultraviolet radiation (UV).  The most prevalent source of such radiation is the sun itself, but any sort of ultraviolet light source (tanning beds, e.g.) can be a cause as well.  UV rays damage the skin and leave a hot, red blemish across the skin.  The effects of these burns can cause serious skin abnormalities, premature wrinkling, and even lead to skin cancer.  Skin cancer is the most pervasive form of cancer in the United States, largely due to sun exposure.

It seems that it would be obvious that the most dangerous part of the day for sunburns would be during the sweltering hours when the sun is at its highest levels.  It is true that 10-4 is, generally speaking, the hottest part of the day.  However, the insidious thing about invisible UV rays is that they can be present and affecting your skin even during the cooler moments of the afternoon and morning, and even while the sun is obstructed by clouds.

If your children are going to be performing outdoor activities during the summer months, try to remember to dress them appropriately.  Lighter colours and fabrics--pants and shirts with long sleeves can help shield the skin, but don’t have to be heavy (it is possible to be comfortable and protected at the same time).  Sunscreen is useful, as long as it is reapplied often, more especially so when the user is sweating or swimming.  If your child has a particularly sensitivity to sunburn--fair-haired and pale-skinned people tend to fare the worst at this--consider using a sunblock (sunblocks have an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher).  You should always test these first to make sure your child’s skin will not react to them.  

If you do find your child the victim of the sun’s rays, prepare him or her for some discomfort.  At its mildest, a sunburn will cause redness, skin irritation, and some dryness, peeling, and itching.    Treatments for the burns can include topical moisturizers and pain relievers, hydrocortisone cream or aloe gel.  Cool baths and cool, light compress for the head and neck can help draw out some of the heat.  A first degree sunburn should clear up after a few days, but a second-degree burn may take a couple of weeks to heal--and should be looked at by a medical professional.   In serious cases, they could experience nausea, severe blistering, chills, fever, and more else besides.  Be sure to give fluids regularly to prevent dehydration.

Prevention of sunburn boils down to one key concept to understand:  Cover Up!  Stay out of the direct sunlight as much as possible.  Shade is your friend.  Keep your skin covered when you can not avoid the sun’s rays.  Hats and sunglasses are useful tools, as are light, long-sleeved shirts and pants.  Cover exposed skin with sunblock.  Above all, make sure that you are teaching your children about the risks of sun exposure and the responsibility they have to protect themselves.  It helps to act as an excellent behavioral model yourself.

No one is saying that you shouldn’t enjoy the outdoor activities that make the summer worth having.  Go out and have fun, but stay safe!  Remember, the sun can cause harm even on cool or cloudy days, so take steps to keep yourself and your skin safe.