Now that the temperatures are warming and the days are lengthening, it won't be long before the school year ends and many families head to the beach for some fun and sun. Few summer days are more carefree than those spent seaside building a sandcastle or venturing out into the waves with a boogie board.

But time at the beach also comes with some health hazards, particularly as you bare your skin to the elements. As a dermatologist who treats children as well as adults, I often see the effects of summertime fun on my younger patients. Fortunately, most of these skin problems are preventable and treatable. Read on for information about a few common summer skin issues, so you and your family can truly rest easy at the beach this year.

Skin Cancer

Just about everyone knows by now that ultraviolet rays from the sun are associated with skin cancer, yet it's estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives. Prevention is key. If you protect your children's skin while they are still young, you can help decrease their risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

What parents can do:

I always remind patients that using sunscreen to help shield the skin from those harmful rays is vital. (The exception is babies younger than 6 months, who should be kept out of the sun entirely.) For children 6 months and older, use water-resistant SPF 30+, broad spectrum sunscreen, which protects from both UVA and UVB rays. It also helps to use sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as these tend to be less irritating for sensitive skin.

For effective sunscreen use, apply enough and apply it often. For an adult, use one ounce - enough to fill your palm. For children, there is no prescribed amount; just be sure to cover all exposed areas liberally, including your child's ears and tops of the feet. Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outdoors, and re-apply every two hours while outdoors, as well as after swimming or excessive sweating. And don't forget lip balm with SPF!

Another option for sun protection is sun-protective clothing. It provides excellent coverage for children without the guesswork of sunscreen application, and there's no need to reapply. If you decide to go that route, look for clothing with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) labels of 30 or higher. Try letting your little ones shop for their own outfits. There are lots of stylish and trendy options available these days, and kids are likely to be more enthusiastic about donning protective wear if they've chosen it themselves.

You should also try to keep your children in the shade whenever possible, best to avoid being in the sun between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when the sun's rays are the strongest. I encourage parents to use those hours for an indoor lunch break or some family nap time, in order to get everyone out of the sun for a while. Remember that even in the shade, the water and sand will reflect the sun's UV rays and increase the risk of burning.

Sunburn

You can help prevent sunburn the same way you can help prevent skin cancer - with consistent and effective sun protection. However, in the event that your child ends up getting too much sun and develops an uncomfortable sunburn after a day at the beach, there are steps you can take to minimize his or her discomfort.

What parents can do:

It's important that your child avoids further sun exposure. Get inside and have your child take a cool shower or bath to reduce the heat. To reduce inflammation and irritation, apply over-the-counter hydrocortisone 1 percent ointment twice a day for a few days (but be sure to avoid the eye area). A gentle moisturizing cream after a bath can also help alleviate dryness.

You can also try giving an over-the-counter children's pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to help ease minor discomfort. Avoid breaking any blisters, as this can increase the risk of the skin becoming infected. Simply allow the fluid to be reabsorbed and the skin to heal. If fevers, headache, severe pain or blisters occur, see a doctor. Remember that sunburn is evidence of damage to skin cells and can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer in the future. If your child has a burn, use it as a wake-up call to avoid more sun-related skin damage.

Prickly Heat

Prickly heat, also known as heat rash or miliaria, is common in infants and children. Caused by blocked sweat ducts (pores) that trap perspiration under the skin, it produces small, itchy red bumps. It is more likely to happen if your child is sweating in areas covered by clothing.

What parents can do:

Be sure your child wears loose-fitting clothing that helps keep the skin cool and dry, and keep your environment cool by using fans or air conditioning. This condition usually clears up on its own. If the rash does not clear up in a few days, see your doctor.

Bug Bites

Bug bites are mostly a nuisance, but they can sometimes become infected by too much scratching.

What parents can do:

Prevent bites by using an insect repellent, such as one containing DEET, 30 percent or less; however, insect repellent should not be used in infants younger than two months. Apply only to clothing and exposed areas of skin. You should also be sure to wash it off after coming indoors.

Gently clean bites with soap and water or rubbing alcohol, and apply a cool compress to help reduce swelling and avoid scratching. To reduce inflammation and itching, apply hydrocortisone 1 percent ointment twice a day for a few days. If your child has pain or fever or the redness spreads, see a doctor.

Seabather's Eruption

Seabather's eruption is a rash caused by tiny larvae of jellyfish that become trapped between the skin and swimsuits. It affects swimmers in the Caribbean, off the coast of Florida and other areas with large populations of jellyfish on the Atlantic coast. The rash, which typically consists of raised, itchy bumps, develops minutes to hours after getting out of the water and tends to affect areas of the body that have been covered while swimming.

What parents can do:

Have your children remove their swimsuits soon after swimming and shower with fresh, cool water and soap. Discourage them from rubbing their skin. The condition usually will go away on its own within a week or two. See a doctor if pain, spreading redness or swelling occurs, or if a fever develops.

Acne Breakouts

You might not think about acne breakouts as being a summer problem, but these can be triggered by the warm weather and increased sweating, and are not uncommon in teens and preteens.

What parents can do:

Be sure your teen or preteen uses a clean towel to dry off when sweating and showers as soon as possible after working out. Supply your child with loose-fitting workout clothes and sunscreens and moisturizers that are oil-free or non-comedogenic to avoid clogging pores.

These summer skin conditions are usually not serious, and as I tell my patients, they are generally preventable and can be controlled - it's just a matter of thinking ahead and taking care of your skin. You can usually avoid a visit to my office; however, for any skin condition that seems severe, persists or worsens, or is accompanied by fever or other internal symptoms, you should seek medical attention. If you want to read more before heading to the beach this summer, consult the following


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Kristin Cam Missmar, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist with the Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group. She sees patients at the Kaiser Permanente Falls Church Medical Center.