We know that childhood sunburn is one of the most important preventable causes of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. Kids are especially vulnerable because they have thinner skin, a less developed immune system and because their behaviour means they spend much more time than adults outside playing in the sun. Some studies have estimated that a person receives 80% of their lifetime ultraviolet exposure in childhood. Just a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life.
Any reddening of the skin should be avoided in children, and if your child’s skin is starting to look pink then get them out of the sun! Tanning is also a sign of skin damage, and if your child is developing a significant suntan then they have had too much UV exposure. What steps should we take to protect our kids? The first is simply to remember the importance of sun protection! This is especially the case at the brightest time of the year in the height of summer, but care needs to be exercised from April till October. Clouds do not provide enough protection to prevent sunburn and skin damage and will only filter out about a quarter of UV rays, so remember to take steps to protect children’s skin even on a cloudy day.
Covering up with clothing or a parasol is the most reliable way to protect your kids from the sun. If you have small children on a beach, don’t chose swimming trunks or cute bikinis, select a funky UV protecting suit that covers the shoulders trunk and upper arms. Give them a broad brimmed hat, or a baseball cap with an attached sun cape on the back. Cover exposed areas with a high SPF (at least factor 30) broad spectrum sunblock, applied 20-30 minutes before exposure and reapply it in the middle of the day if needed, particularly if they are swimming. Don’t forget backs of necks, ears, noses, lips, hands and feet. If your kids don’t like the texture of a cream, then try an oil or gel sunblock.
Finally, don’t forget eye protection. We know that childhood exposure to UV can cause cataracts in later life, so find a pair of shades, perhaps wrap-around, with good UVA and UVB filters.