Being a sun hero is a great idea for children. They can play in the sun more safely and protect their health for years to come.
Skin cancer in children is rare but is increasing amongst younger people. Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, is now more prevalent than most cancers in UK residents aged 15 to 34.
A problem which is likely to have begun when they were even younger and could be prevented by following a few rules:
- Wear clothing that protects, choose close weave materials and a darker colour.
- Apply water resistant sunscreen, which should be SPF 30+ and UVA 4 or 5 star.
- Put on a sun protectant hat, close weave and wide brim, or legionnaire style.
- Spend time in the shade. Trees, or umbrellas will be helpful on open ground.
- Protect your eyes with good quality sunglasses, wrap around are a fair option.
A tight regime and children’s enthusiasm aren’t a perfect match. Ideally, sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before going in the sun, still better late than never. Long sleeves are useful but a t-shirt is much better than no shirt.
Choose clothes well. If you can see through material, then UV radiation can get through. If you select a lycra swimsuit, this will continue to protect after a swim, most materials offer less protection when wet.
Encourage older children to choose their own sun attire, they are more likely to stick with this. A wrap around sarong might be more cool than having to wear a dress, in vogue sunglasses will be fine, as long as they block close to 100% of UVA and UVB.
Sticking to the core rules where possible helps, along with reapplying sunscreen every couple of hours, or after swimming and making use of shade. Being in the sunshine is fun, a rational approach makes that safe.
Also bear in mind that sunshine itself is not a clear indicator. Cloudy, or cooler summer periods don’t mean UV rays have gone away, clouds simply filter the rays to an extent, by no means removing them.
For babies under 6 months, the approach needs to be different from the points above. Their skin has not yet developed protection and they should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Protective clothing and shaded prams are useful assets.
Beyond 6 months, a little sun can be fine, although protection still increases to a degree with age, including changes in the eyes. For children under 10 years, sunglasses are especially important to protect their developing eyes.
UVB radiation from the sun is the most efficient way to boost a child’s Vitamin D supply. There is still no need to see sunburn, or reddening of the skin. Less than half an hour of gentle to medium sun exposure per day should be fine.
For young children, who are particularly sensitive, a daily supplement of vitamin drops containing vitamin D can be a better option than too much sun.
Not many children have gone through life without sunburn, so please don’t worry overly. If this produces longer term changes in the skin, you should then seek professional advice.
In a similar way, if unexplained growths appear on a child’s skin, even long after sun exposure, an opinion from a specialist may make sense.
Our children’s dermatologists will be pleased to help, although our main message here is about not seeing you. Skin cancer and other issues are almost entirely preventable by adopting sun safety practices.
There’s nothing wrong with a little sun, although this holds dangers none of us can see. We hope you and your children have a great time in the open air and stay safe.