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From Head to Toe: Dressing Your Child for Summer
When it’s hot out in the summer, it’s natural to want to wear as little clothing as possible. However, the right clothing can help protect your child from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, bites and stings from insects, and rashes from plants, such as poison ivy and poison oak. Here are some tips for dressing your child for summer, from head to toe, to keep him cool yet protected.

Hats are important to protect your child’s face and eyes against the sun. Select a hat with a wide brim that shades his face, with flaps that shade the ears and neck. Shop with your child to find a hat that fits well and that won’t block her vision or slip off when she’s running. Let your child choose among the many available styles and colors.

As well as causing sunburn and skin cancer, the sun’s rays can also damage children’s eyes. This eye damage from sun exposure in childhood usually doesn’t become apparent until adulthood. Over time, sun exposure can cause cataracts—clouding of the lens—and macular degeneration—damage to the retina—which can cause blindness. Sunglasses are very helpful for protecting children’s eyes from sun damage. Here are some tips for selecting sunglasses.

1. Buy sunglasses with a label certifying 99 to 100 percent UVA and UVB protection, or UV absorption up to 400 nm. This ensures that the lenses block out the harmful rays. Dark lenses without UV protection can actually increase the damage to the eyes because they allow the pupils to dilate and let in more dangerous rays.

2. Select sunglasses that fit your child’s active lifestyle. Look for sunglasses that will not be easily broken—such as those with bendable frames, and impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses. Don’t buy glass lenses unless they are required by your child’s eye doctor. Also, look for sunglasses that are secured with a strap around the back of your child’s head so they don’t fall off when he’s running.

3. Have your child try on the glasses before buying them. The lenses should be large enough to shield his eyes from above, below and the sides. The frames should fit snugly against the bridge of his nose and above his ears so they won’t fall off.

4. Offer your child a selection of sunglasses that offer UV protection and fit well, and let her choose the color and style she likes best. Toddlers may want sunglasses in bright colors or animal shapes. Older children often prefer sunglasses in adult styles and colors.

To protect your child’s skin from the sun, dress her in light-colored, loose-fitting clothes that cover as much skin as possible. Here are some options.

For regular clothing, choose cotton, tightly-woven fabric. For a quick measure of a fabric’s sun protection, hold it up to the light. You want little light to shine through. However, studies found that most regular summer clothing rated below an SPF of 30, and most white T-shirts offered the equivalent of SPF 10 when dry and virtually no protection when wet.

The best sun protection is provided by heavier, tighter weave, less stretchy, and dark colored fabrics, which most people choose not to wear in the summer, since they’re hotter. To increase the sun protection of regular clothes, you can add a chemical product called SunGuard to the laundry, which gives clothes an SPF of 30 for up to 20 washes.

In recent years, special clothing to protect children from the sun has become more popular. The sun-protective clothing uses synthetic, tightly-woven fabrics often with chemical treatments to absorb or diffuse UV rays, allowing them to block the rays while being lightweight, breathable and comfortable in the heat.

There are many choices of colorful one-piece and two-piece children’s swimsuits that cover their bodies to their elbows and knees. Look for a tag from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) that certifies the Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating. If it says “UPF 50+” this means that the fabric blocks 98 percent of the UV rays.

Long-sleeve shirts and pants also help protect your child against bug bites and exposure to poison ivy and poison oak. This is especially important if they are playing in long grass, the woods, or outside at dusk. Other helpful tips:

Consider using insect repellent. Insect repellent with 10 percent or less DEET is considered safe and effective for children over 2 months of age. It’s safest to put the insect repellent on the outside of the child’s clothes, with only a limited amount on exposed skin. Don’t use DEET more than once a day.

At the end of the day, remove your child’s clothes and inspect his body for ticks. Look especially on the scalp, neck, behind the ears, on the ankles and in the armpits and groin. If you find a tick, which can be as small as a period on a printed page, remove it with a tweezers, then wash the skin with soap and water. If you remove the tick within the first 24 to 48 hours, children are unlikely to get Lyme disease. Contact your child’s doctor if you have any concerns.

Also, give your child a bath. Washing with soap and water will help remove the oils of poison ivy or poison oak leaves they may have brushed against, and prevent the allergic rash.

It also helps to throw your child’s clothes in the laundry. This will kill any ticks that have stuck to their clothes, and prevent re-exposure to the oils of the poison plants.

Socks and Shoes
Although it may feel nice to go barefoot or wear flip-flop sandals in the summer, make sure your child wears shoes outdoors to help prevent tripping, stubbed toes, splinters and bee stings.

Athletic shoes or sneakers are best for running, playing sports and hiking. It’s important for your child to wear socks to absorb sweat and prevent athletes’ foot and blisters, and to protect against bug bites on his ankles. White socks are best for spotting ticks and avoiding the irritation of dyes in blisters. When hiking in long grass or the woods, tuck your child’s pants into his socks.

New styles of summer shoes combine the best features of shoes and sandals. They’re sturdy with rubber soles for running and hiking, but also have holes to cool off feet, and are waterproof or quick-drying.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician