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Weather Wise: Head-to-Toe Seasonal Protection

Block the Sun

SKIN

Even during the short, cold, and often overcast days of winter, the sun's cancer-causing rays remain powerful, so it's essential that you safeguard your own and your child's skin against sun damage.

If either of you is going to be outside for more than 15 minutes, "apply sunscreen to any areas that will be exposed  -- and try to do so about 30 minutes before you head out for maximum effectiveness," says Rana Ziadeh, M.D., clinical instructor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises using sunscreens of at least SPF 15 that block both ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays.

Because the chemicals in sunscreens may be too harsh for infants 6 months and under, protect the delicate skin on their faces with a wide-brimmed hat made of densely knit cotton, wool, or polyester-fleece material.

A baby's skin is thinner, more sensitive, and contains less protective keratin than that of older kids, "so it's particularly susceptible to the drying effects of cold and wind," says Rachelle Scott, M.D., associate clinical professor of pediatric dermatology at Cornell University. "Use mild, unscented soaps, and to help keep skin hydrated, apply a moisturizing cream following baths, while the skin is still damp."

EYES

The sun's ultraviolet radiation can harm eyes, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). Exposure to glare may damage the retina and could lead to potentially blinding conditions later in life, such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

"About 95 percent of sunlight reflects off newly fallen snow, compared with less than 20 percent off sand in the summer," says Jeffrey Weaver, director of the AOA's clinical-care center in St. Louis. Whenever possible, keep babies and toddlers out of direct sunlight and make sure that their eyes are always shielded with a brimmed hat. Older children can also wear polycarbonate (impact-resistant) sunglasses that offer UVA and UVB protection.

LIPS

Protect or treat dry, chapped lips on kids older than 6 months with lip balm that contains sunscreen. And encourage school-age children to carry balm with them so they can apply it regularly. On infants' chapped lips, use aloe or petroleum jelly.

Hold In Heat

HEAD

Body heat escapes rapidly from the head, so it's important to keep heads covered. Slip on a wool or polyester-fleece hat, and use the hoods on snowsuits and jackets.

FACE, EARS, FINGERS, AND FEET

When skin is cold and wet, body heat escapes even faster. That's why kids' hands, ears, face, and feet  -- the body parts most likely to come into contact with the elements  -- are most at risk of frostbite. To keep these areas warm and dry, put water-resistant, insulated mittens on babies and young children. Make sure little ones' ears are fully covered by earmuffs or hoods.

For older kids, the biggest challenge is getting them to keep gloves or mittens on, so look for styles that are lightweight, water-resistant, and allow flexibility for, say, sculpting the details in a snowman. Layering silk or polyester-rayon inserts with lined gloves or mittens (Thinsulate lining is a good option) can help keep fingers covered in very cold weather.

Two pairs of socks  -- one lightweight, the other thermal or heavy wool  -- are key in cold weather, says Dr. Ziadeh. Choose water-resistant boots, and be sure your child tries them on with winter-weight socks to ensure the correct fit. On rainy, slushy days, rubber boots worn over shoes can help feet stay extra warm and dry.

On especially cold or windy days, kids should wear a fleece or wool gaiter to keep their neck warm.

To help prevent or relieve irritated skin, apply a light coating of petroleum jelly just under the nose before your little one goes outside. "A child with a runny nose is especially susceptible to soreness from nose blowing or rubbing," says Dr. Ziadeh.

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