UV rays may turn your skin red (“sunburn”) or a darker brown. Children tend to spend more time outdoors, can burn more easily, and may not be aware of the dangers. Children need to be taught about the dangers of too much sun exposure as they become more independent. Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight and protected from the sun using hats and protective clothing. Sunscreen may be used on small areas of exposed skin only if adequate clothing and shade are not available.
When you are outside, protect your skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays by using the Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide basics.
SLIP: Protect your skin with clothing.
When you are out in the sun, wear clothing to cover as much skin as possible. Clothes provide different levels of UV protection. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, or long skirts cover the most skin and are the most protective. Dark colors generally provide more protection than light colors. A tightly woven fabric protects better than loosely woven clothing. Dry fabric is generally more protective than wet fabric.
Be aware that covering up doesn’t block out all UV rays. If you can see light through a fabric, UV rays can get through, too.
SLOP: Use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.
Sunscreen is a product that you put on your skin to protect it from the sun’s UV rays. But it’s important to know that sunscreen is just a filter – it does not block all UV rays. Sunscreen should not be used as a way to prolong your time in the sun. Even with proper sunscreen use, some UV rays get through, which is why using other forms of sun protection is also important.
Sunscreens are available in many forms – lotions, creams, ointments, gels, sprays, wipes, and lip balms, to name a few. It’s important to note that not all cosmetics are sunscreen products, check the label.
SLAP: Wear a hat.
A hat with at least a 2- to 3-inch brim all around is ideal because it protects areas that are often exposed to intense sun, such as the ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp. A dark, non-reflective underside to the brim can also help lower the amount of UV rays reaching the face from reflective surfaces such as water. A shade cap (which looks like a baseball cap with about 7 inches of fabric draping down the sides and back) also is good, and will provide more protection for the neck. These are often sold in sports and outdoor supply stores. If you don’t have a shade cap (or another good hat) available, you can make one by wearing a large handkerchief or bandana under a
A baseball cap protects the front and top of the head but not the neck or the ears, where skin cancers commonly develop. Straw hats are not as protective as hats made of tightly woven fabric.
SEEK: Look for shade in the middle of the day.
An obvious but very important way to limit your exposure to UV light is to avoid being outdoors in direct sunlight too long. This is particularly important between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, when UV light is strongest. If you are unsure how strong the sun’s rays are, use the shadow test: if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are the strongest, and it’s important to protect yourself.
UV rays reach the ground all year, even on cloudy or hazy days, but the strength of UV rays can change based on the time of year and other factors. UV rays become more intense in the spring, even before temperatures get warmer. Be especially careful on the beach or in areas with snow because sand, water, and snow reflect sunlight, increasing the amount of UV radiation you get. UV rays can also reach below the water’s surface, so you can still get a burn even if you’re in the water and feeling cool.
SLIDE: Wear sunglasses that block UV rays.
UV-blocking sunglasses are important for protecting the delicate skin around the eyes, as well as the eyes themselves. Research has shown that long hours in the sun without protecting your eyes increase your chances of developing certain eye diseases.
The ideal sunglasses should block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. Before you buy, check the label to make sure they do. Labels that say “UV absorption up to 400 nm” or “Meets ANSI UV Requirements” mean the glasses block at least 99% of UV rays. Those labeled “cosmetic” block about 70% of UV rays. If there is no label, don’t assume the sunglasses provide any UV protection.
Darker glasses are not necessarily better because UV protection comes from an invisible chemical in or applied to the lenses, not from the color or darkness of the lenses. Look for an ANSI label.
Large-framed and wraparound sunglasses are more likely to protect your eyes from light coming in from different angles. Children need smaller versions of real, protective adult sunglasses – not toy sunglasses.
A Word About Sun Exposure and Vitamin D
Doctors are learning that vitamin D has many health benefits. It might even help lower the risk for some cancers. Your skin makes vitamin D naturally when you are in the sun. How much vitamin D you make depends on many things, including how old you are, how dark your skin is, and how strong the sunlight is.
At this time, doctors aren’t sure what the optimal level of vitamin D is. A lot of research is being done in this area. Whenever possible, it’s better to get vitamin D from your diet or vitamin supplements rather than from sun exposure because dietary sources and vitamin supplements do not increase skin cancer risk, and are typically more reliable ways to get the amount you need.
– American Cancer Society