Keeping our kids safe in the sun
Growing up in the 80's and 90's I worshipped the sun. I would cover my skin in baby oil and splay out on a lounger hoping for the perfect tan. We have come so far in our education on healthy levels of sun exposure but I still cringe at the damage I must have done. Now as a mother I feel a large responsibility to teach my kids how to enjoy the sun while protecting their skin from future sun damage. I will chat a bit about the measures I take each day and how we as a family ensure we can be outdoors as much as possible.
But before I begin I feel it is important to note we should not completely shun the sun. Adults and especially children need a decent amount of sun exposure each day to keep vitamin D levels at an adequate level. Vitamin D strengthens our immune systems, helping us and our children fight diseases and also keeps our bones strong and healthy. It has been proven that being in the sun makes us happier, feel good and sleep better.
My children groan each morning as I lure them into the bathroom to be slathered in sunscreen. I used to only apply on hot sunny days but after learning that 80% of the harmful rays from the sun still penetrate through cloud cover I now know they need sunscreen every day.
Excessive exposure to the sun’s rays and burning of the skin in childhood is known to increase their chances of developing skin cancer as an adult together with accelerated rates of premature aging.
A child’s skin has a higher chance of being burned by the sun than an adult. This is because their skin is thinner and hasn’t developed the natural defence mechanisms as that of an older person. Therefore it is even more important to ensure they are protected.
CHOOSING YOUR SUNSCREEN
Staring at the rows of sunscreen in the pharmacy can be rather confusing so here is a breakdown of what it all means.
Sun protection factor (SPF) refers to the amount of time it takes for skin to burn. For example if the cream has an SPF 15 it will take 15 times longer for the skin to burn with the cream on compared to if you had no cream on at all.
Therefore, a higher SPF does not mean that you are more protected but rather that you will be protected for a longer period of time.
Choosing a sunscreen with a higher SPF is a better choice for children but no matter the number, it is important to reapply at least every 2 hours as sunscreen comes off due to sweating, swimming, clothes rubbing etc.
Lastly, when choosing a sunscreen opt for one that states ‘full spectrum’ or ‘broad spectrum’ as this is more likely to protect from both UVA and UVB rays.
Clothing plays an important role in protecting our little ones while playing in the sun. For example a long sleeved top will provide more protection than a vest and a wide brimmed hat will shield the face, ears and neck more than a cap.
My son has very pale skin so we put a rash vest on him when swimming and a long sleeved costume for my daughter. There are lots of clothes made using fabric with built-in sun protection which is a great addition to their wardrobe.
We try to keep our children out of direct sunlight when the sun is at its peak in the middle hours of the day, this is when the sun's rays hit the earth the most directly and thus have the most damaging effects on our skin. Even when wearing sunscreen it is good to avoid the sun during these hours as nothing can provide 100% protection.
And lastly, we talk to our kids about the sun. Educate them about why we look after our skin and take the measures we do to protect ourselves. Having this knowledge will hopefully start them on a lifetime of taking the necessary precautions because they understand rather than because of their parents telling them to.
We want our children to spend their time having fun outside and being active and I truly believe if we take these steps and educate our kids they can enjoy doing all the things they want to and still be safe.
By Pippa Walker, freelance writer and researcher.