Make sure their outdoor playtime is safe.
Here's an eye-opening statistic: Just one blistering childhood sunburn more than doubles a person's risk for melanoma over a lifetime, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
And while you may try to protect your family by diligently applying sunscreen before trips to the beach, pool or lake this season, experts say that one of the most common places children absorb ultraviolet (UV) rays is at school.
"When kids participate in field day, practice sports, play at recess, and even sit next to a window all day, they can absorb a damaging amount of UV rays-especially over time," says dermatologist Ana M. Duarte, M.D., division director of dermatology at Miami Children's Hospital. "As low as 25 percent and as high as 80 percent cumulative sun exposure occurs during childhood years."
Compounding the problem is that most schools lack policies for sunscreen usage, and some even go so far as to forbid it. Just last year, a school ban on sunscreen left two children from Tacoma, Washington, with severe burns after school field day. "It's tricky for schools to navigate, because if you go by what the FDA says, sunscreen should be kept out of the hands of children," explains Duarte. "That leaves the complication of who's going to apply it-like a teacher or a nurse-and then there's the fear of possible reactions."
Sun product giant Coppertone is looking to begin a conversation about school sun protection with its Making The Sunscreen Grade program, which aims to educate parents on steps they can take to make sun protection a priority for school systems.
Duarte says a comprehensive policy shouldn't just encompass sunscreen application, but also include wide-brimmed hats and sun protective clothing-and in many schools, that's also restricted. "Sun exposure can especially be dangerous on the playing field, and there should be shade available during the sun peak hours of practice from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.," adds the dermatologist.
Coppertone's program doesn't specify one policy for all schools to adopt, but rather provides resources for parents to begin a discussion with their children's school system with the help of free materials available online here.
And while some adults today may look back on their own sunscreen-less childhood years and question how important it really is, experts say that times have changed, both in terms of our environment and what we know now.
"Ozone depletion makes today's sun more damaging than ever," says dermatologist Wendy Roberts, M.D., medical director of Desert Dermatology Skin Institute in Rancho Mirage, Calif. Add that to the now epidemic-like numbers of skin cancer cases, and it's a whole different ball game from the days of drenching one's self in baby oil before lying by the pool. "UV rays are now considered carcinogenic, like cigarettes," adds Duarte.
Another handy tool you can add to your arsenal is Coppertone's MyUV Alert app, which offers local UV daily index forecasts, custom sunscreen reapplication reminders and even drugstore coupons to buy sunscreen. While you may be the one spearheading your family's sun protection plan, this is a digital app we bet your child will know how to use to keep everyone up to date and prepared for the sunny days ahead.