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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

News Center

Playing it Safe in the Sun

LAS CRUCES -- As the summer heats up in New Mexico, parents must take precautions to limit kids' exposure to the sun, said a New Mexico State University child development specialist.

"Parents really need to make sure that children wear sunblock when playing outside," said Diana DelCampo with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "Most children get a lot of sun before the age of 18. Cancer experts say this is when they really get the damaging rays that can cause skin cancer later on."

According to the American Cancer Society 1 million Americans develop skin cancer due to sun exposure each year. It takes just one severe sunburn before the age of 20 to increase the risk of getting skin cancer.

Sunburns can be very painful and damage children's skin, but they can be prevented, DelCampo said. Children should take 15-minute shade breaks each hour, when playing in direct sun. "Sunblock should be applied to children 30 minutes before they go outside and after water play. It should be reapplied every two hours," DelCampo said. "All exposed areas should be covered with sunblock, particularly the top of the ears and the back of the neck and the top of the shoulders." Also watch faces, noses, feet, backs of knees and even under shirt and swim suit straps.

Fatigue, thirst, flushed skin, reduced sweating, headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting are all signs of heat-related illnesses, which are common on hot days, DelCampo said. If these signs occur, the child should be brought inside to lie down, excess clothing should be removed, and cool compresses should be applied. If the child starts vomiting, is not well in 15 minutes or has a temperature greater than 101 degrees, emergency medical services should be called immediately.

Children become dehydrated quickly when playing outside in the sun, she said. They should always drink plenty of water. Parents should try to schedule outdoor activities in the shade before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m., to avoid the hottest times of the day.

"Children should never, ever be left in a car during any time of the year, particularly in the summertime," DelCampo said. "It does not take very much time at all for children to get dehydrated, develop sunstroke and to suffocate in a car by themselves."