Safe summer fun: Hydrate, apply sunscreen, repeat

UCLA Health article
Dips in the pool, long days at the beach and trips to the playground: summer is synonymous with outdoor fun. Prolonged heat exposure on sunny days can also carry potential risks for kids, such as dehydration, heat illness and sunburn. But the good news is that they are easily prevented with a little advanced planning.

Summer Tip #1: Don’t wait until you are thirsty to start drinking.

Thirst is a late signal of dehydration, meaning the body is losing more water than it takes in. Instead, kids should drink water throughout the day. If possible, try to schedule more intense activities to take place during the cooler hours of the day, such as the early morning and late afternoon.

When to take action: Signs of dehydration in children include:

  • No wet diapers or less frequent urination
  • No tears when crying
  • Abdomen, eyes or cheeks that look sunken
  • Dry skin, mouth and tongue
  • Fatigue and listlessness
  • Light-headedness and dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Increased heart rate and breathing

Call your doctor if your child experiences any of these symptoms. For severe dehydration, your child may need to be hospitalized for proper cooling and hydration treatment.

Summer Tip #2: No tan is a good tan.

One of the most common sun-safety mistakes is when a parent thinks, “My child doesn’t burn – he tans, so that’s okay.” There is no such thing as a “healthy tan.” Tanning means skin damage has occurred, which can lead to skin cancer. To avoid skin damage from the sun’s rays:

  • Use sunscreen, frequently and liberally.
  • Make sure your children wear rash guards or other protective swim wear at the beach and in the pool.
  • Avoid the sun during the hottest time of day (generally between 10 am to 2 pm)

Summer Tip #3: Higher isn’t always better.

Another common sun safety error: “I used sunscreen with a super-high SPF, so we’re protected all day.” Don’t be fooled by high sun protection factor (SPF) numbers, which indicate how well they block dangerous ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. In fact, most experts agree that a SPF higher than 45 is not necessary. Using higher SPFs may even be less effective in cases where the high numbers may lead some people to think that they don’t need to reapply or that they can neglect other sun safety guidelines.

Here are some quick SPF tips:

  • Dermatologists recommend sunscreens with SPFs between 30 and 45
  • Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen that offers “broad spectrum protection,” which protects against both UVA and UVB rays
  • SPF 15 sunscreen allows you 150 minutes of sun protection
  • SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays
  • SPF 45 sunscreen allows you to 450 minutes of sun protection
  • SPFs 30 and 45 both block about 97 percent of UVB rays

Summer Tip #4: Follow the three-“S” rule: sunscreen, shade and sun-protective clothing.

Best practices for sun safety – no matter what number SPF you use – include reapplying sunscreen frequently throughout the day and after swimming, using enough of it so your body is fully covered, wearing sun-protective clothing and seeking shade during peak sun hours.

When to take action: If you or your child does get sunburned, you can relieve the pain and discomfort by applying cool or iced compresses or wet towels on the skin. You can also use over-the-counter moisturizing lotions to help reduce inflammation.

Take the Next Step

If you need expert care for severe sunburn or dehydration, contact the primary and urgent care specialists at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital.