With South Africa’s lovely climate, our children are able to play outdoors in the garden, on the beach or playground, and on the sports fi eld. These outdoor times are great for our kids’ health and happiness, but they might be doing lasting damage to their unprotected skin. Children’s skin is delicate and more susceptible to sun damage than adult skin is. In fact, the sun damage that can lead to skin cancer often takes place in childhood.
The sun’s ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) rays burn the skin, resulting in sunburns that contribute to wrinkles, liver spots and white splotches on the skin later in life. Over time, these rays can lead to basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer. Some studies show that several severe sunburn before the age of age 18 doubles the risk of melanoma.
Now is the time to make protect our children’s skins. Here are the basic rules of sun safety:
Rule 1: Avoid the intense midday sun
As far as possible, children should avoid being in the sun from 10am until 3pm, when the sun is at its strongest and does the most damage. They are better off indoors or in the shade.
Rule 2: Wear a hat
Of course it’s not always possible or desirable to keep children indoors during the hours of strongest sunlight, but it is essential that they wear hats when they are outdoors. It’s a simple habit that could be a lifesaver. Choose a wide-brimmed hat that shades the ears and back of the neck, rather than a cap.
Rule 3: Apply sunscreen daily
Kids need to get into the habit of applying sunscreen every day before they go off to school or before they go out to play. Show them how to apply it correctly: apply enough to make a visible layer, before rubbing into the skin. Make sure they take special care of the ears, nose, lips, neck, shoulders and legs. For children, a high SPF is recommended. Choose a product with at least SPF30.
Rule 4: Reapply sunscreen
One application of sunscreen at 7am isn’t sufficient to protect your child all day. It needs to be reapplied later in the day, particularly before and after sports, swimming or outside play. The tricky part is getting children to remember to reapply sunscreen before they dash off to cricket practice or after a dip in the pool.
It helps to provide an easy-to-use spray bottle or a sun stick – kids are more likely to use sunscreen
if it’s not too much trouble. Pop it on top of the sports bag, so that your child can’t fail to see it when she gets changed.
Rule 5: Use protective clothing
The more you cover up, the less exposure you have to the sun. Sun-protective tops and swimming costumes provide the equivalent of 50+ protection, and are well worth investing in, particularly for beach holidays. Even a cotton T-shirt provides protection, but go for darker colours, which offer more protection than pale colours. The tighter the weave of the fabric, the better the protection.
- Don’t just leave the sunscreen in a bathroom cupboard. Keep a bottle on the stoep or in the kitchen so that it’s visible and close at hand
- For the beach, invest in a sunproof tent or a large beach umbrella. Entice kids into the shade regularly for a cool drink of water or a reapplication of sunscreen.
- Club together with other parents and buy a large bottle of sunscreen for the classroom or locker room. Ask the teacher to remind kids to apply regularly.
Did you know?
- Skin can burn on overcast days. In fact, because we tend to be less vigilant about sun protection on cloudy days, that’s often when sun damage occurs.
- As little as 15 minutes of sun exposure can lead to sunburn, especially in children. By the time the skin looks red, the damage is done.
- Dark skin needs protection too. It’s not only very fair skinned kids who are at risk of sun damage, although pale, red-haired and freckled kids need to be extra vigilant about sun protection.
- Most of us use too little sunscreen – it should be applied quite thickly. Dermatologists recommend that you apply two layers, rather as you would apply two coats of paint.
- Children’s eyes need protection, too. Buy a pair of decent quality sunglasses that blocks out 99 – 100% of UVA and UVB radiation. They don’t need to be expensive designer models, but make sure they are not just toy sunglasses.
- Regularly examine your children’s skin and be aware of existing blemishes or spots. If you observe any changes to a mole, for example, consult your doctor without delay.