We all need some sun exposure, but too much can hurt. Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays in as little as 15 minutes, causing suntan or even sunburn. Because July and August are the two hottest months of the year north of the equator, it’s a fitting time to look at ways to help children prevent sunburns and learn how to enjoy fun in the sun safely.

The Importance of Sun Safety

Recent evidence links sunburns during childhood to skin cancer later in life. Even one severe sunburn can double children’s chances of getting skin cancer at some point in their lives, as reported by the American Cancer Society. Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer - with cases increasing by 12% per year - and affects all skin colors, from fair to dark.

Addressing Sun Protection in Your Program

Most children don’t apply sunscreen on their skin before going outside, so it’s up to program staff to reinforce sun-safety techniques. Here are a few tips and strategies that your program can use:

● Alert parents and staff to the dangers of sun exposure and your program’s concern. Ask parents for their help in protecting their children.

● Inform staff, parents and children of your efforts to help prevent over-exposure to the sun.

● Remember UV rays from sunlight, which cause cancer, can reach the skin on cloudy days and even underwater.

● Minimize the time children are on the playground between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., which is the most intense period of ultraviolet rays.

● Encourage children to wear hats and sunscreens or sunblock lotions when on the playground or on field trips, particularly when around pools or beaches. Be sure to apply sunscreen at least 10-30 minutes before sun exposure. The CDC recommends using sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection.

● Help parents raise this issue with school systems regarding lunch recess outside and outdoor field trips and picnics. This is particularly important in the summer for year-round systems or for schools in tropical climates.

● Have staff model good sun protection techniques.

Programs and staff need to have policies and procedures in place to protect children from sunburn. Use these tips to incorporate sun safety into your program.

This article was adapted from Summer Program Tips, Strategies and Activities for School-Agers 5-14 Years-Old. Check out this resource for more tips for your after school or summer program.