Saving Your Skin

When the sun, bugs, and plants make their assault, take evasive measures.

Saving Your Skin

Photo: Gerri Photography


It’s summer again, and warm weather and sunshine means fun and outdoor adventures for all. But summer brings with it the possibility of injury to our kids’ skin – from the sun, from bugs, and from plants. What are the best ways to prevent these injuries, and the best remedies if they do occur?

Safety of sunscreens

We know that too much sun exposure during childhood can increase the risk of skin cancers as children grow older. However, a lack of sun exposure in the summer can lead to a deficiency in Vitamin D, a nutrient that is critical to the immune system. So how do we protect our kids from the damaging effects of sun exposure while at the same time making sure they get enough Vitamin D?

Sunscreens: Sunscreens are routinely used on kids and adults to block the damaging effects of the sun. However, there is a great deal of controversy about sunscreens – some are thought to prevent tanning, but not skin cancer, and others are reputed to be carcinogenic. Sunscreens containing minerals such as zinc and titanium are considered to be the safest ones to use. These minerals actually reflect the sun’s rays off the skin and provide an effective block to the harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. For a list of the best sunscreens to use on kids, check out the Environmental Working Group’s ‘Skin Deep Cosmetic Database’ at

Avoid using sunscreens on infants – some of the ingredients may not be safe for them. Instead, keep infants covered up or appropriately screened to protect them from intense sun rays. Covering all kids with light clothing and hats is important when they are outdoors for long periods of time. Most sunscreens need to be reapplied periodically, and this is not always possible. This is especially true if kids are at a camp where they will be swimming. Hats not only prevent sunburn, but also help prevent sunstroke.

Vitamin D. Some experts feel it’s best to let children produce their own Vitamin D by allowing them to have up to 20 minutes per day of sunshine before applying sunscreen. It really depends on how sensitive your child’s skin is to the sun. If your child has very fair skin, you may want to protect him from any amount of strong sunshine in the summer. The easiest way to ensure kids have adequate levels of Vitamin D is to provide it as a supplement. (Talk to your local food health store about how much Vitamin D your child should be taking.)

Burns, bugs & plants

Sunburn. If your child does get a sunburn, apply a cool cloth with a bit of baking soda for some pain relief. Or apply the clear sap from the inside of an aloe leaf to the sunburn to reduce the pain very quickly and help speed up the healing process. Calendula gel, which is available at most health food stores, is very soothing to sunburned skin.

You can also make a tea using calendula flowers, chamomile, mint, and comfrey and once cooled apply it as a compress. If the burn is more generalized, put the tea in a lukewarm bath. Honey and Vitamin 

E applied topically are great ways to encourage heal-
ing of the skin after the redness has begun to subside. If the burns are severe and there is blistering, take your child to your local hospital for treatment right away.

Insect Bites/Stings. Compresses work well to relieve the sting of insect bites. Baking soda compresses will reduce the pain and swelling quickly. You can also relieve the itch of a mosquito bite or the pain of a bee sting by applying a moist compress made of plantain and comfrey leaves.

Poison Ivy. If you take your children on hikes in the woods, make sure you can identify poison ivy so you can keep the kids away from it. The sap or oil of the poison ivy plant induces an allergic reaction wherever it touches the skin. Each subsequent exposure will create an even more severe reaction, which may require steroids to get it under control. It’s important to keep dogs away from these plants as well. They can get the oil in their fur and bring it into the house and affect everyone.

If you or your child is exposed to poison ivy, wash the oil off as quickly as possible preferably with soap and water, but in a pinch with rubbing alcohol. Be careful not to spread the oil further than the affected area. Wash all clothing that may have brushed against the plant or you can develop a rash the next time you touch them.

To relieve the itch, try Rhus tox, a time-honoured homeopathic remedy. Calamine lotion and calendula gel applied topically several times a day will also help to keep the itch under control.

With a little bit of diligence and an ounce of prevention, your children can enjoy summertime to its fullest.

Author: Dr. Mary Welch

Dr. Mary Welch is a naturopath and chirporactor at Circle of Life Wellness Centre in Peterborough.

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