As summer winds down and the busy back-to-school season sets in, sun protection may slip down the list of health and wellness priorities. But harmful ultraviolet rays are present year-round. Studies show that children sustain a significant amount of sun exposure at school. Ultraviolet rays are most intense from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., which is when students are usually outside for recess, physical education class and after-school sports.
According to the Skin Care Foundation, 23 percent of lifetime UV exposure occurs before the age of 18, and this exposure can have far-reaching effects.
“Sun damage is cumulative, so sun exposure during childhood can contribute to skin cancer risk later in life,” says Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, president of The Skin Cancer Foundation. “The best way to mitigate that risk is to educate young children on effective sun protection, instilling healthy habits that will last a lifetime. Children should understand that summer vacation is not the only time they’re exposed to the sun’s rays.”
The Skin Cancer Foundation offers the following recommendations for keeping children sun-safe during the school year:
Make sunscreen a part of the morning routine: At least 30 minutes before children go outside, parents should apply a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher to their skin. Older children should learn to apply sunscreen themselves and make it a routine habit.
To remain effective, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating. At a minimum, remind children to reapply sunscreen before after-school sports and outdoor activities.
One ounce of sunscreen (about the size of a golf ball) should be applied to the entire body. Remind children to cover those easy to miss spots, such as the back of ears and neck, as well as the tops of the feet and hands.
Clothing is the single most effective form of sun protection for the body, so send kids to school in densely woven and bright or dark colored fabrics, which offer the best defense. The more skin covered, the better, so choose long sleeves and long pants whenever possible.
Send children to school with a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses to protect their face, neck and eyes. If they won’t wear a wide-brimmed hat, a baseball cap is better than nothing.
There’s a chance your child’s school does not allow students to use sunscreen or wear a hat outdoors during the school day without written permission from a physician. If that is the case, The Skin Cancer Foundation has created a sun protection permission form that parents and doctors can sign, allowing students to bring these items to school, apply and use as needed. The form is available at skincancer.org/schoolnote.