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Sun Damage is More Harmful to Children

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Sun Damage is More Harmful to Children

Jul 21, 2014

We all enjoy the summer sun but nobody enjoys sunburns. Research shows sun damage is much more dangerous for children than adults. Pediatrician Dr. Cindy Gellner walks through the procedures for proper sun protection and gives an in-depth explanation of which sunscreen your child should be wearing to best avoid getting sun damaged.

Episode Transcript

Dr. Gellner: In addition to all the fun, you also have to remember safety, sunburns in particular. We're seeing kids going sunburned already. That's what we're going to talk about today. I'm Dr. Cindy Gellner for The Scope.

Announcer: Keep your kids healthy and happy. You are now entering the Healthy Kid Zone with Dr. Cindy Gellner on The Scope.

Dr. Gellner: We all know a sunburn is pretty much where your skin gets all nice and red when you stay in the sun too long. But what exactly is a sunburn? Well, it's actually your skin reacting to ultraviolet rays of the sun. People get burned many times and don't seem to learn sometimes that they need to wear sunscreen. Unfortunately, the symptoms of a sunburn didn't really begin until about two to four hours after the sun damage has already been done. Minor sunburn is actually a first-degree burn. It just turns your skin pink or red. But prolonged sun exposure can actually cause a second-degree burn. That's when you get the blisters on your skin and you get the skin peeling and it looks all gross for a couple weeks.

A sunburn never really causes a third-degree burn or scarring, but you really don't even want the second-degree burns. Because the more sunburns you have, especially as a child, increases your risk of skin cancer in the damaged area. Kids don't get skin cancer that much unless they're using tanning beds. But the damage that causes skin cancer in adults starts in childhood.

What happens if your child happens to get a sunburn? The first thing they're going to complain about is it hurts. The pain from the sunburn will probably last about 48 hours. You can give him Tylenol and Motrin to help for about two days. That will really help with the discomfort. You can also use Aloe Vera. If you put the Aloe Vera on it really helps cool down the burn and it actually moisturizes the skin. That helps a lot too.

Taking a cool bath will also help. Showers are usually too painful if your sunburns is really bad, so a bath is better. Your child should also drink extra water to replace the fluid lost in the swelling of sunburn skin. That will also prevent dehydration and dizziness.

If your child has a second-degree sunburn, the peeling usually starts in about a week. You can just put some good moisturizing cream on the peeling parts. If your child does blister with that second-degree sunburn, trim off the dead skin around the broken blisters with small scissors then apply antibiotic ointment to it. Do that about twice a day for three days. Now, if your child has blisters, do not pop them. Your blisters are actually protecting the new skin that forms underneath the blister. So keep that blister intact if you can.

Don't put any sort of butter on a sunburn. That's really kind of painful and it doesn't really help. Definitely, don't buy those first aid creams or sprays for sunburn. They contain benzocaine. That's related to the medicine that the dentist injects into your gums when you're having a tooth worked on. It can actually cause allergic rashes.

You know what to do if your child gets a sunburn, but how can you prevent a sunburn from starting in the first place? The first thing you need to do is put on a good sunscreen 30 minutes before your child is going to be outdoors. It takes that long for the sunscreen to really start working and soak it. Also, don't forget to protect your face. Wear a hat with a brim on it. Be a good example, you sunscreen yourself.

Some kids are more at risk of sunburns than others. About 15% of Caucasian children will have skin that never tans, only burns. Those kids need to be extra careful with the sun. They usually will have blond hair, blue or green eyes, freckles. Be very careful with them. For babies, the skin of babies is thinner than the skin of older children and more sensitive to the sun. In fact, babies under six months old, their skin isn't even fully developed yet. You can't even put sunscreen on kids under six months old. It's not really safe for them. Babies under six months old should be kept out of direct sunlight.

What about tanning? Teenagers want that Bain de Soleil tan. It's not really cool to go into a tanning booth. You think the suns rays cause cancer? Tanning booths even more so. If your child really wants a sun tan, go use the spray tans, not the tanning beds. The spray tans have come a long way. They don't have the streaks that they used to. They really are more beneficial for you than being out in ultraviolet light.

Avoid exposure to the sun during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. because that's when the suns rays are most intense. Don't let those overcast days for you. Over 70% of the suns rays still get through the clouds and 30% of the suns rays can also penetrate loosely woven fabrics like T-shirts. They do make some shirts, especially like, swim shirts, sport shirts that actually are more tightly woven and they actually do provide UV protection.

One thing to consider here in Utah is the altitude. Be especially careful about exposure to the sun at high altitudes because the sun exposure increases 4% for every 1000 feet of elevation above sea level. Don't forget your eyes, nose and lips. Protect your child's eyes from the sun with that hat that I mentioned. Don't forget sunglasses and use a lip balm that contain sunscreen.

I get asked a lot, "What kind of sunscreen should I use?" You want to use one that covers both UVA and UVB rays. For kids, I usually recommend one that has an SPF of 30 or higher. SPF rating, it pretty much tells you what percentage of the ultraviolet rays get through to the skin. An SPF of 30, only allows, one-thirtieth of the suns rays to get through and extends safe sun exposure.

Again, if your child is going to avoid a sunburn this year, you want to make sure you apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before they go out to give it time to penetrate into the skin. Remember your eyes, nose and ears and cheeks and all those little areas that you're not going to be necessarily spraying with the sunscreen or putting the lotion on. You also want to be sure to put a whole palm full of lotion on. You need to reapply the lotion every three to four hours. Waterproof sunscreen only stays on for about 30 minutes. Use caution when you're out in the sun this summer to avoid getting burned.

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