The school year is coming to an end and summer vacation is almost upon us. Summer break is a great time for kids to be active and reconnect with the outdoors. It’s important, however, to take steps that keep kids safe, whether it’s during trips to the beach, hikes in the woods or afternoons at the pool.
Direct exposure to the sun’s rays helps kids produce much needed Vitamin D. During the peak hours, however, it’s important to protect against sunburns. Sunburns are not only painful, they can increase the risk of some skin cancers later in life.
The best way to protect children is through seeking shade and wearing lightweight clothing with a tight weave that covers the body. Wide-brimmed hats that shield the face, ears and neck are ideal, as are sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection.
For children older than 6 months, sunscreens, when used correctly, are another important part of skin protection. The best sunscreens are “broad spectrum”, protecting against both UVA and UVB rays, and should be SPF 15-30. Higher levels of SPF do not necessarily work better, and have higher concentrations of chemicals.
Thick white creams should be used, rather than sprays or dry powders that are often inhaled.
Look for sunscreens containing active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, rather than oxybenzone. Oxybenzone may have mild effects on the hormone system and are best avoided. A good guide to safe sunscreens for kids is produced by the Environmental Working Group and can be found on their website, ewg.org.
Mosquito and tick bites are part of life outdoors, and usually are just a nuisance. Sometimes, however, insect bites can become infected, can transmit diseases like Lyme or West Nile Disease, or cause allergic reactions.
As with sunburns, the best protection is lightweight clothing that covers the body. Screens on windows and nets over strollers keep insects away, while avoiding perfumes and flowery clothing may also limit attracting insects.
When you expect your child to be amongst biting insects, insect repellents can be valuable. DEET containing products are the most effective. DEET has a long history and has been shown to be quite safe, even in babies down to 2 months of age.
Products of 15-20% DEET are best. Avoid concentrations over 30%, which are not more effective. They should be applied directly to exposed areas of skin or to overlying clothing, but not onto irritated skin, the hands of young children or directly onto the face. It should be applied only once per day and washed off in the evening.
Products containing 20% Picaridin may work as well as 10% DEET. Essential oil products may be valuable for shorter times against some but not all insects, and may cause allergic reactions.
Permethin products kill ticks on contact, and can be applied to clothing or camping equipment. You can also buy clothes containing permethrin. However, it can stay on clothes even after washings, and should not be applied directly to the skin.
Never use a sunscreen and insect repellent combination product. Sunscreens need to be applied much more frequently than insect repellent, and combining the chemicals may reduce the efficacy of the sun protection.
All in all, keep kids skin protected with clothes and hats, appropriate sunscreens and safe insect sprays when needed. Then go have fun!