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Kids love to play outside in sparkling sunshine at the beach, backyard, or playground, and that’s a good thing. But they also need protection from ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in sunlight. Experts agree that much sun damage to skin occurs before age 18. It’s people’s sun exposure in their early years that determines their skin cancer risk later in life. This means it’s never too soon to start protecting kids from the sun.
Become a “sun savvy” parent by learning about sun protection and teaching good sun care habits to your children. Young skin is delicate and easily burned so all children, no matter whether they tan easily or not, should be protected from overexposure to sunlight.
Start with easy, everyday steps to teach kids the importance of sun protection and make them as routine as brushing teeth. “We make it part of our 'getting-ready' game,” says Rebecca Staffel of Seattle, Washington, mother of eight-year-old Meg. “She now puts on sunscreen all by herself in the morning.”
Also keep in mind that eating an antioxidant-rich diet offers some natural sun protection for the eyes. A recent study associated high lifetime sunlight exposure with age-related macular degeneration in people who do not get adequate amounts of vitamin C, vitamin E, and zeaxanthin, and found that people who do get enough of these antioxidants were protected.
Keep your sun protection in perspective by remembering that sun exposure is still the best source of vitamin D—essential for building strong bones and muscles, and which has even been shown to protect against certain types of cancer and to reduce the risk of bone loss and falling later in life. The increase in the use of sunscreen and the avoidance of sun exposure have resulted in widespread vitamin D–deficiency. A moderate amount of sunlight exposure (less than an hour a day, when the sun is not at its most intense) is beneficial—it’s regular, excessive amounts that are dangerous.
For those who aren’t able to safely regulate sun exposure, or have concerns about skin cancer, vitamin D supplements are also an option.