Just Beachy: A Note on Sun Protection
Ah, I prop my sunglasses over my eyes and lean back, soaking in the warm rays as they seep into my body while sinking deeper into the sand. The sound of the waves meeting the shoreline echo’s in my ears as I listen to the quiet chatter of my son hypothesizing the structure of a sand castle.
That was a shovel load of sand hitting me in the face.
“Oh, sorry Momma!”
…Yep, it’s that time of year again — days filled with beaches, parks, and as much outside play as possible. Nothing tires out a child like fresh air, right?
My careless teen years of slathering on baby oil (and consequentially nursing horrid burns) ended quite some time ago, but it was in having my own child and moving to Victoria, that I truly learned the importance of sun protection.
Whenever I see or touch my son’s fresh skin, I am reminded of how young he is, how new and fragile he is — even at two-and-a-half. I want to be able to nourish and protect his skin while teaching him habits he can carry on throughout his life. Being in a climate such as this, where we spend several months of the year outside in the sun, structuring an outside routine continues to benefit and protect us both.
Here are a few things that I’ve learned:
Peak Hours & Moderation
Peak hours play a crucial role in sun protection, as the sun is strongest between 10am-4pm. These, of course, are the hours when I am usually out with my son so we’ve come up with some other ways to play protected. For days of yard play, I’ve placed his sandbox in the shady part of the yard to avoid exposure. At least this way I know he is catching some shade when he needs it.
This year I’ve also prepared myself with a sun tent. I had toyed with the idea of a sun umbrella in the past, but chose a tent for ease of use. When we go out to the beach I am usually packed down with bags and backpacks, so having something smaller and compact was essential. Additionally, items like food, special toys, phones, and cameras can be stored inside the tent. Umbrellas are a great option too and both will provide much needed shade in open spaces like the beach.
I usually aim for 1.5 to 3 hours outside at a time (at most). After about 1.5 to 2 hours I can see that my son is usually ready for some cool quiet time indoors. Mixing up the indoor to outdoor play helps with a change in scenery but also with potential heat exhaustion. If we are outside in the morning, we usually plan for lunch and a nap at home, then head back out in the afternoon.
Some days, of course, are all day beach days – that is a must, isn’t it?
When my son was really little (6 months) I always made sure he had a sun shirt on to protect his little body. He had a farmer’s tan for the first year of his life because I never took that shirt off of him when we were outdoors! I’ve recently read that one way you can tell if a shirt will protect from the sun is to place one hand underneath the fabric and push against it. If you are able to see your hand through the fabric, it is a good indicator that the UV rays are penetrating the fabric and that it’s most likely not the best choice.
While deciding if a UV protectant shirt is a good choice for your child and offer the right sun protection, it’s also important to question if your child has too many clothes on. My son gets very warm very quickly, whereas I am the opposite, so I have to remind myself to assess the clothes he is wearing and feel his body to check how warm he is. The core is a good spot to place a hand to check for temperature. My son eventually stopped wearing his sun shirts because he was simply too warm in them, but they provided me peace of mind for a good year.
Hats are also a very important piece of clothing — though keeping it can be a feat all together. I have found hats with tightening straps to be easier to keep on, and of course the wider the brim, the more protection your little one will have. If you worry about sun on the neck, there are hats that have flaps of fabric that cover the neck — cool, right? My personal favorite right now is the toddler fedora. My son has a few that we cycle between. The rims are wide enough to give shade to his face, ears, and neck and he seldom pulls them off.
Kids’ Sun Protection
Kids’ sun protection is a must. We’ve made it part of our summer routine to apply sunscreen before we leave the house. I try to look for the most natural kids’ sun protection. I can find and so far my favorite is Alba Botanica for kids. Aside from coming in a pretty pink tube, it is easy to squirt out, not messy, and rubs on easily. I’ve used sticks and different brands in the past but have found many to be messier or include more complex chemicals. The spray has always been appealing to me, but knowing all of those particles are also spraying up noses, and into mouths and eyes has encouraged me to stick with lotions. After application, we always wash our hands….sunscreen in the eyes stings!
Make sure to check your bottles for how often to reapply to provide optimal protection.
Sunglasses & Lip balm
The eyes and lips are very important parts to protect, and often the most forgot about. My son is very particular about sunglasses and usually only wants to wear my UV protected polarized sunglasses. I have recently learned, through an Optometrist friend, that when the sun moves through dark lenses that are not UV protected, the pupils actually dilate providing more exposure to harmful UV rays. This is why it is so important to purchase sunglasses with UV protection, and why glasses that are not can actually be more harmful than wearing nothing at all. Now it makes more sense why my son never wants to wear his own cheap sunglasses.
Skin damage is not uncommon on the lips, and there are SPF lip balms available at most drug stores.
Ultimately when choosing the right sun protection for you and your child(ren,) it’s important to know their skin type and to watch how their skin reacts. My son has dark olive skin and manages to tan very easily with little to no pinkness. I on the other hand have a lot of freckles and burn very easily.
It’s generally said that those with light eye and hair color are more susceptible to burns, however, sun damage can affect anyone so even those with darker skin are encouraged to protect themselves.
What works to protect our skin may not work for everyone, but these are just some things I’ve worked into our sun schedule to ensure I am protecting us as best I can.
Now get outside and enjoy some much deserved sun, and remember to stay hydrated!