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Protecting Children from the Risks of Sun Exposure

As the weather warms up, the sun shines and layers come off. But with less layers of clothing, more skin is exposed to the harsh rays of the sun. This means there is even more skin for school nurses to evaluate. Why is this so important? Skin is the largest organ of the body, so there are many issues and risks of sun exposure that may arise. And those issues might signal larger health problems.

Click here to read a story of a school nurse who helped identify an illness due to changes in a student's skin.

You might see an even bigger increase in sun exposure with your students this year if more time is being spent outdoors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control states that being outdoors is safer than being indoors when it comes to preventing the spread of coronavirus. Their recommendations even include opting for outdoor classes where circumstances allow. So, children might find themselves outside for snack breaks, lunch, recesses, and even instructional time! This will result in the skin getting exposed to more and more sun each day – thus increasing the risk for skin issues.

The Risks of Sun Exposure

Unfortunately, the risks of sun exposure are plentiful. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

  • One American dies from skin cancer every hour. Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.
  • Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is now one of the most common cancers among adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 29. UV exposure and sunburns, particularly during childhood, are risk factors for the disease.
  • Premature aging is often regarded as unavoidable, but up to 90% of visible skin changes are caused by the sun. With proper protection, most premature aging of the skin can be avoided.
  • Research has shown that UV radiation increases the likelihood of certain cataracts; however, cataracts and other eye problems can be lessened with proper eye protection (i.e., sunglasses).
  • Overexposure to UV radiation can weaken the immune system, reducing the skin’s ability to protect against infection.

Data suggests that around 40 to 50% of total UV radiation exposure for those 60 years of age or older occurred before the age of 20. That means that childhood is a susceptible window for long-term harmful effects of the sun. Effective protection at all ages is critical in order to control both immediate and long-term harmful effects on children’s skin.

Protecting Skin at School with Sunscreen

With all of the risks that sun exposure brings, and knowing that students may be spending extra time outdoors in the coming months, what can you do as a school nurse?

NASN states that school nurses are in a key position to empower students to make informed choices regarding health-related behaviors and to provide sun protection education to students, families, and school staff. It’s important to be aware of your school’s policy and your state’s policy when it comes to sunscreen. Because sunscreen is considered an over-the-counter medication by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there may be regulations about what you can and can’t provide to students. If you are allowed to administer sunscreen in the school setting, be aware that some children have allergies or sensitivities that may need to be taken into consideration.

To shop MacGill’s selection of sun protection products, click here.

To shop MacGill’s selection of dermatology decks, click here.

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