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Ask: How to protect kids from summer sun and bugs?

Q. What can I do to protect my kids from sun and bugs this summer?

A. There are some really easy things you can do to keep children safe—both now and later. The answer to both is remember 30!


Sun protection is very important for young skin. Children with lightly pigmented skin need to be especially careful about protection from too much sun exposure. Exposure to a little sun (15-20 minutes) can be great for Vitamin D levels and also mental health! But more exposure than that risks sunburns and sun damage. Sunburns hurt a lot now, and sun damage can lead to long-term skin cancers including melanoma and other skin cancers.


The first strategy is to avoid direct sunlight between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the rays are the most intense. Secondly, keep areas covered to the degree possible -- this is particularly true for young children and infants. Hats and long-sleeved shirts are definitely in order. Lastly, slather on sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. Theoretically, this means that it allows someone to stay in the sun 30 times longer than with no protection. It definitely helps to prevent some types of skin cancers later in life, and it probably prevents melanoma, though that is less clear. That’s why we still recommend sun avoidance when possible.


Thirty is also the key to keeping bugs away. Children should use an insect repellant that contains at least 30 percent DEET.  This is safe for children of all ages, though some people avoid its use in infants less than 6 months. DEET-containing repellant helps repel mosquitos and also ticks—which lots of people in N.C. worry about.  You can also avoid insect bites and stings by covering up – the same suggestion as for sun protection!


Summer is a great time and it’s really important for families to get outside, enjoy the weather and exercise. Taking a few precautions makes sure that the fun doesn’t lead to problems later.


Dr. Mike Steiner is a pediatrician in the department of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at UNC and North Carolina Children’s Hospital, a group of health-care professionals dedicated to improving the health of children and adolescents through clinical care, research, education and advocacy. The group includes over 25 physicians, practitioners, nurses and other health-care professionals. We supervise the care of children with general medical problems at N.C. Children’s Hospital, including the newborn nursery, primary care clinic and a complex care and diagnostic clinic that also sees patients at the N.C. Children’s Specialty Clinic located on the Rex Healthcare campus in Raleigh.