With summer comes more time in the great outdoors and more time in the sun. Unfortunately, sun exposure isn’t always great for us. Yes sunlight gives us activated Vitamin D and helps set our internal clocks, but it can also cause damage to our skin. Our risk of skin cancer doubles if we’ve had 5 or more sunburns. In fact, there has been a 250% increase in melanoma in children and young adults. These are scary statistics. So what can you do to safely enjoy fun outdoor activities?
- Avoid peak times between 10 am and 4 pm
- Stay covered with light clothing
- Keep infants in the shade or under cover
- Make sure everyone wears their hats and sunglasses. Look for sunglasses that offer UVA and UVB protection
Sunscreen is a great way to be able to stay out in the sun in summer clothing without risking a burn. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using sunscreens that create a barrier on the surface of the skin. Look for the ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These ingredients are not absorbed by the skin. For babies less than 6 months of age, these are the best products to use on exposed areas, especially if your baby cannot stay in the shade.
- Always look for products that have broad spectrum UV protection. Ideally you want UVA and UVB
- Look for SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 30-50. This means that it will take the skin 30 times as long to burn from UVB exposure. SPF does not indicate UVA protection so be sure your product clearly states what the coverage is. Above 50 is unlikely to give much more protection.
- Creams, lotions and sticks are the best types of sunscreen. Be careful with sprays as they can be inhaled and cause lung damage. If you are using a spray, be sure to apply while in a well ventilated area and avoid the face.
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every 90-120 minutes, more often if in the water.
Ingredients to avoid:
- Oxybenzone is very effective against UVA and UVB and is approved by the FDA for anyone over 6 months. However, there continue to be concerns that once absorbed by the skin, oxybenzone can act as a hormone disrupter. This can have negative effects on growing children, but more research needs to be done. Research has not shown a link between oxybenzone and cancer.
- PABA was initially a very popular ingredient in sunscreen due to its ability to block UVB rays. However, PABA was found to cause allergic reactions, increased risk of sunburn and cell damage, and clothing discoloration. It also came off easily in water.
Nothing says summer like playing in the pool or ocean. Getting in the water can be fun, refreshing and great exercise. However, it is imperative that parents are aware of the safety concerns involved with water play. Young children can drown in just the smallest amount of water, so be careful with kiddie pools and dog bowls as well. Often times drowning is silent so keep your eye on your children and don’t expect to just watch for flailing arms and splashing water. Keep young children and those who are not strong swimmers at an arm’s length. Flotation devices are helpful but may give you a false sense of security. Furthermore, floaties that go just on the arms may keep the arms up but may not prevent the face from going under the water. Even if you have older kids who are strong swimmers, it is very important that you avoid distractions and keep your eyes on your children. Instruct them on safe ways to jump in the water and to follow signs when posted about diving rules.
If you will be boating, make sure everyone on board is wearing a life vest. Be sure the driver is knowledgeable in driving the boat and the safety features. NEVER drink alcohol while operating a boat.
No summer is complete without evening bike rides. Or scooter rides. Or skateboard rides. You catch my drift. If good times on wheels is part of the your plan, don’t forget helmets! Everyone, including parents, should be wearing helmets when out and about, even if you think you are a really good rider. “Adolescents (15-24 years) and adults aged 45 years and older have the highest bicycle death rates.” (From the CDC) Make sure everyone’s helmets are properly fitted and don’t forget that as kids grow they can grow out of their helmets.
Be sure to ride in places intended for bikes, stay in bike lanes and if you are riding at night, wear reflective clothing so cars can see you. Instruct kids to watch for cars at driveways, as well as at intersections. Stay focused on everyone you are riding with and diminish distractions by keeping phones away and avoid using headphones so you can listen for cars.
Bee stings, bug bites, poison oak and many other pesky critters can interfere with fun outdoor activities. Bee stings are especially troublesome because of the potential for an allergic reaction. If you know you have a severe bee sting allergy, always carry your EpiPen! If you don’t already have a diagnosed allergy, it still stinks get stung. Furthermore, excessive numbers of stings can cause the same symptoms as an allergy due to an overwhelming amount of venom released. Therefore, avoid a swarm if you see it and make sure children don’t mess around with beehives. Signs of an allergy include swelling and itching at the sting site, swelling of the throat which can cause trouble breathing/swallowing, and hives on the body. Furthermore, breaks in the skin from a sting can result in an infection so a sting that is becoming more swollen, red or painful should be checked by the doctor.
What to do if you get stung:
- Scrape the stinger out and apply ice
- For itching, apply some topical hydrocortisone
- If the hydrocortisone is not helping, take some Benadryl
- Ibuprofen can be helpful for pain and local swelling
- If you sense an allergic reaction coming on with swelling of your mouth or face or any difficulty breathing, call 911
Keep these safety tips and mind and the whole family can enjoy a summer filled with fun, healthy outdoor activities.