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Protecting Your Kids from Sun Exposure on the Field

When you’re headed to the beach or pool, you’re probably in the habit of making sure your kids are protected from the sun. But you might not have the same routine when it comes to outdoor sports. 

Practices and games can be at chillier times of year or on overcast days. Plus, your young player might have more of their skin covered by uniforms and sports gear. It can be easy to overlook sunscreen and shade. 

Holly Beach, MD, a pediatric sports medicine specialist with Banner – University Medicine, pointed out why sun protection is important. “Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer. As we encourage kids to play, we should also be recognizing this risk. And once we do, we can take simple measures that can reduce the risk of these cancers later in life,” she said.
Here’s what to know about teaching kids sun safety, and some tips to make protection against sun exposure easier.

Why sun protection is important for kids

Protecting skin from the sun is important for everyone, especially children. Children who are exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can get painful sunburns and even increase their risk of skin cancer and premature aging later in life.

Most children love to play outdoors, so they may be more likely to have more sun exposure than adults. Plus, their skin is more delicate than that of adults and it is still developing. So it’s especially important to make sure that kids use sunscreen properly, wear protective clothing and stay out of the sun when the rays are strongest.

Teaching kids about sun safety

When you teach your children about the risks of sun exposure and how to protect themselves, you help them learn responsible sun safety habits for life. Explain why it’s essential to wear sunscreen and protective clothing. Encourage their questions and address any concerns they may have.

Here are some of the basics about sunscreen kids should learn:

  • Sunscreen: Your child should use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB. If your child will be sweating, make sure they use water-resistant sunscreen.

    “There are many different types of effective sunscreens: Gels, creams, sprays and clothing. Find what works for you,” Dr. Beach said.

    As they get older, have them apply their own sunscreen. Make sure they understand they need to cover all their skin thoroughly. Be sure they put sunscreen on all their exposed skin, including the face, ears, neck, arms and legs. Don’t forget the tops of the feet and the back of the neck.

  • Protective clothing: As much as possible, given your child’s sport, have them dress in clothing that protects them from the sun’s rays. That can be lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and pants and wide-brimmed hats.

    “You can also use clothing that is very protective against UVA/UVB rays — the ones that cause skin cancer,” Dr. Beach said. Sunglasses with UV protection can help shield kids’ eyes and reduce the risk of eye damage.
  • Seeking shade: Encourage your child to take breaks under trees, umbrellas or pavilions. Bring portable sun shelters or pop-up tents to create your own shade. It’s especially important to seek shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • Timing: As a parent, you might not have much control over the schedule for your child’s practices and games. But if possible, plan activities in the early morning or late afternoon when the rays are less intense. Be sure your child is properly protected during peak sun hours.

Use positive reinforcement to encourage sun safety habits in kids. Praise them when they remember to apply sunscreen before going outdoors or they seek shade during outdoor activities. Encouraging them can reinforce their efforts in taking care of their skin.

When it comes to sun protection tips for parents, you can also lead by example. It’s not enough to protect your children from the sun’s rays. You need to protect yourself. Be sure to apply sunscreen before you go out, wear protective clothing and seek shade when you’re outside.

Special considerations for sports

Make it a part of your routine to apply sunscreen as you get ready to head out to practices and games. That way, it becomes a habit for your whole family.

“It can be a hassle! But if we remember to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before exposure, they are already covered before they hit the field,” Dr. Beach said.

Be sure your child has sunscreen on the sidelines. Practices and games can run long. “Your child needs to reapply sunscreen every 1½ to two hours and more frequently if they are sweating heavily,” Dr. Beach said. It can be a good idea to pack a sun safety kit with essentials like sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and water bottles.

Be sure that coaches understand the importance of sun safety and encourage them to include some child-friendly sun protection practices in their coaching routines. Coaches may want to schedule activities during non-peak hours if possible, so shaded areas for breaks should be provided and encourage players to wear protective clothing and sunscreen.

“Many drills can be done in the shade, dugouts and benches can have covering, and umbrellas can be used when kids are on the sidelines,” Dr. Beach said.

The bottom line

Even if you have good sun protection habits most of the time, it can be easy to overlook the sunscreen and skin coverings when it’s cloudy or cool, or when you’re rushing out the door to get to a game or practice. But it’s important for your whole family — especially kids — to protect their skin from the sun’s UV rays. Those rays can cause sunburns, premature aging and skin cancer.

If you’d like to learn more about protecting your kids from sun exposure during practices and games, reach out to an expert at Banner Health.

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