Finally, FINALLY, on the frigid East Coast we’ve had a few — emphasis on a few — warm and sunny days that make it seem like Spring is really Spring.
I know I’ve been anxious to get out and get some fresh air, and to have my boys play a bit in the sun, soaking in some nice Vitamin D!
But as attractive as a sunshiny day is after a long, snowy, and often gray winter, it’s worth it to consider sun safety as we go into the months ahead where fun in the sun is the calling card of the season.
It’s a time of year when, given how much more exposure kids get in the summer than the winter, parents wonder again about sun safety.
And these days there’s so much information to sort out. Parents wonder:
- Do kids actually need SOME sun?
- How much sun is TOO MUCH sun?
- Are commercial sunscreens safe or worse?
- What kinds of clothes help protect against too much exposure?
- Should my child wear a sun hat? I thought that was just for babies.
- Do organic, natural, or homemade sunscreens work?
Now, I am no expert in any of this. But I am a mom and so think about it all for my own kids. And when I seek answers, I do research.
And as a camp director, I know how important it is for us to monitor sun exposure for our campers and staff alike. Some sun is okay, but too much unprotected exposure is a non-no. And sun exposure isn’t just about skin — it’s also important to regularly emphasize hydration in response to the sun’s heat.
So while I have no one right answer for everyone, I do think there are sensible steps we can all take to deal with the sun in a reasonable, informed way that’s best for our own kids. And that’s exactly what I encourage parents to do when prepping your camper for camp.
You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
It is true that humans need sunlight for many reasons. It gives us energy and a positive orientation to life (helps guard against depression). But notably a little unprotected exposure — around 15 minutes in shorts and a tank top each summer day — helps build up essential vitamin stores that protect against heart disease and heart attacks, among other things.
But too much of a good thing is still too much. So parents need some guidance. Recently I cam across a video titled Dear 16-Year-Old Me, produced by the David Cornfield Melanoma Fund.
Targeting that unbridled group of desperate sun-worshippers, 16-year-olds everywhere, the video is designed to send a harsh but important message — that tanning beds, long hours spent trying to cultivate a glowing tan, and no concern about sun exposure whatsoever is the WRONG way to deal with personal health and longevity.
Of course, which 16-year-old wants to pay attention to this message? When moms and dads give cautions, teens are apt to ignore them. But watching a video like this, with real people who lost loved ones VERY EARLY to skin cancer may help spread a message of caution and self-care.
I know I sunbathed too much as a teen, and I regret it now. It not like I want to scare the bejesus out of anyone today. But at the same time we have too much information today to NOT take seriously warnings about unmonitored sun exposure and worse, serious sunburns under the age of 18 which DOUBLE the risk of skin cancer.
So, bleak though it might be, I encourage you to show this short video to your teenaged campers and even campers who are younger if you feel they have the maturity for it.
Many tools in the tool box
But even as parents express concern about sun risks, they also are wondering more often than before if they’ve overcompensated with strong chemical sunscreens which may carry their own risks?
So what is a happy medium?
First, do your research on different sunscreens — from chemically-based commercial varieties, to natural and organic strains, to homemade varieties, and decide, with your pediatrician, what is best for your child based on your findings and values.
On one hand there is the mainstream approach cited in this Wall Street Journal article, that downplays any dangers of chemical-based sunscreens, calling any absorption of chemicals or hormonal disrupters, “negligible,” while emphasizing that repeated (re-applied) protection from harmful rays is the essential thing to consider.
On the other hand are the recommendations of the Environmental Working Group, which examines the efficacy, promotion of false-security, inhalation dangers, and environmental risks of stronger chemical varieties.
But whichever sunscreen you choose (and you MUST use something), it’s important to remember that sunscreen is not your only option.
Bathing suits which cover more of the body — or are made with sun screening materials — can also cut down on exposure.
Insisting that your child wear a hat — sun hat or baseball cap — can aid in limiting exposure as well. Along those same lines, long-sleeved tees and pants also cut exposure.
Long-sleeved tees and long pants in the summer? Am I crazy? Well, it’s a long shot but not impossible, particularly when a child takes in a lot of water, or uses a wet bandana or cloth around the neck to keep cool.
And don’t forget the shade. Shade can’t protect against all sun rays, but it’s a darn good start. It’s just as fun to dollop about in the beautiful summer at 10 degrees cooler and far less sun risk by lounging in the shade instead of the sun.
If your child understands that she’s taking these steps to aid in keeping her skin healthy, and promote her wellness, she may be at least a little bit more inclined to follow dear-old-mom’s tips!
We hope your camper will come to camp with a good understanding of her sunscreening needs in both products and clothing. She will for sure hear the counselors say, “Time to reapply your sunscreen,” as well as encouragement to wear hats and stay hydrated, hydrated, hydrated.
We really can have fun in the sun as long as we’re smart about it
— Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls