Facts for Living: Active children outdoors require sun safety and insect repellent

By Rebecca McFarland, Frontier Extension Agent

080714-facts-for-living1With the weather getting warmer and summer break upon us, children will spend more time outside being active (hopefully). But, with the spring and summer sun comes the need for extra vigilance about sun safety and biting insects.

Exposure to UV or ultraviolet light from the sun is the most preventable cause of skin cancer. A few serious sunburns as a child can increase the risk of skin cancer later in life. As parents and caregivers, it is our responsibility to make sure we protect our children from the damaging rays of the sun. Within as little as 15 minutes, the sun can damage unprotected skin. Most people think exposure to UV rays only occur on sunny days, but sunburns can happen on cool cloudy days too. To protect children, follow these tips:

  • Stay in the shade, especially during the midday hours from 10 a.m.-3 p.m., when the UV rays are the most harmful.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat that covers the face, scalp, ears, and neck.
  • Wear child safe, shatter resistant sunglasses, that blocks close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Cover exposed skin with clothing if possible. Long-sleeve shirts and long pants offer the most protection, but are not always the most practical.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) between 15 and 50. Sunscreen should be applied liberally to all exposed skin. Reapply it every two hours, no matter what the SPF factor is.

Here are some tips to help choose an effective, safe sunscreen:

  • Avoid spray or aerosol sunscreens. Inhaling these products can pose serious health risks. It is also possible to not apply enough or miss spots.
  • Read the label. Look for sunscreens that contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide as the active ingredient. These chemicals are usually safer for children because they aren’t absorbed by the skin.
  • Avoid products with oxybenzone, octinoxate or retinyl palmitate/retinol/vitamin A. These products have higher toxicity concerns associated with them.
  • Follow all label directions and warnings about the application of the specific product being used.

Some sunscreen products also contain an insect repellent. Avoid using these combination products. Sunscreens should be applied every two hours, but insect repellent should not be applied that often. Doing so can result in overexposure to the chemicals in the repellent, which can lead to health problems.

Choose a repellent that comes in lotion, pump or towelette form. Avoid sprays. Make sure you read the label and choose a product registered by the EPA. Look for these safer active ingredients: DEET, choose products with 10-30 percent DEET, depending on the age of the child and length of time they are going to be outside, Picaridin, and IR3535.

Be sure to wash repellent off when returning inside and wash clothing with repellent on it in a separate laundry load if possible. Always read and follow all label directions and precautions on sunscreen and insect repellent products. Some products have specific warnings regarding the use on children.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at the Extension district’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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