When Natalie Reeder’s two children used to play in their backyard on summer afternoons, the scorching Mesa, Arizona, sun drove them back in the house within ten minutes. They could feel the burning-hot plastic of their playset right through their shorts, so they started going outside only in the early morning hours. Then one day, Reeder noticed a shade cloth covering a neighbor’s patio, and she had a brainstorm. Her husband bought some Easy Gardener sunscreen fabric for $78 at The Home Depot and stretched it over poles on a 12- by 40-foot section of their yard. “That first day we had the structure, the kids played outside for an hour and a half,” Reeder says. “We can all stay out a lot longer now without getting burned or overheated. And my sister, who also has two kids, is always calling us to ask, ‘Is it okay if we come hang out with you guys today?’ because I’m the one who has shade.”
Reeder’s story is a good reminder of an easy step you can take this summer that will enhance your outdoor time and, more important, help protect your child’s skin: Seek shade. Although your family should always use sunscreen, staying in shady areas can reduce your child’s overall exposure to ultraviolet radiation by up to 75 percent, according to a study in the Medical Journal of Australia. The more ways you block the sun, the better. Having five sunburns over a lifetime doubles your chances of developing melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, while having just one blistering burn in childhood more than doubles the risk. So smart sun protection now is absolutely essential.
In Australia, which has the world’s highest skin-cancer rate, shade is a key component of a national campaign to reduce the risk of developing it, and many public pools, sports facilities, and playgrounds have been covered. Across the United States, too, community activists have lobbied school and park officials to create shade at playgrounds. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) believes shade is so important that it awards grants to more than 30 organizations every year so that they can build shade structures over their outdoor play areas.
After talking to dermatologists, horticulturists, and other experts, we’ve found more than a dozen ways to protect your family with shade.