(NEW YORK) — While most parents remember to slather their kids with sunscreen at the beach, they might forget to add it to their school backpacks.
But, according to experts, sunscreen is just as essential during the school year, when kids are playing sports and playing outside at recess.
“Childhood sports are wonderful, but they are a time where you do get more sun exposure than you think,” Dr. Mark Abdelmalek, board-certified dermatologist, skin cancer surgeon, and founder of Dermatology of Philadelphia Mohs Surgery Center, told ABC News. “The fact that the calendar says November is not a free pass on using sunscreen.”
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 80% of UV rays can penetrate clouds, meaning they can cause a sunburn even on cool, overcast days.
That fact, combined with research showing that childhood sunburns can be a strong contributor to the risk of skin cancer, is why kids need sunscreen anytime they’re running around outside, particularly during sports and recess.
In particular, outdoor sports can result in both intermittent bursts of high UV exposure as well as exposure that builds up over time.
Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, said people can get lulled into a false sense of security about skin care post-summer as the temperature begins to cool and the sunshine fades.
“In general, most people think about wearing sunscreen on days when they go to the beach or mostly during the summer months,” Garshick told ABC News. “It is important to remember, however, that UV exposure is present all year, even on days that appear cloudy, rainy, cold or snowy.”
In addition to outdoor sports and post-school play, daily recess breaks during school also can happen during peak sun hours, which are between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
If a child is especially sensitive to the sun, Abdelmalek recommends talking to the child’s teacher about the best ways to help the child apply sun protection prior to the playground.
The same tools used to keep skin safe in the summer can carry over to fall, including wearing sunscreen with SPF of at least 30+, using sun protective clothing and wearing sunglasses and a hat if the sport allows, according to Abdelmalek.
Garshick recommends that parents and caregivers keep sunscreen in a child’s backpack and sports bag so that it is always visible and easy to access. She also recommends that kids be encouraged to pick out the type of sunscreen and type of sunglasses they like in order to keep them engaged in the process.
Abdelmalek said showing kids that sun protection is just another part of staying healthy and active can set them up for success through their lives.
“Being sun smart is just as important as being smart on the [athletic] field and using your helmets and shin guards,” he said. “Sunscreen needs to be in that mix.”
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