Summer holidays are not the only time of year when we should take notice of sun protection for kids, because the UK has seen some very sunny days at out-of-season times.
Parents should be clued up about UV (ultra violet) protection because children need extra protection from the sun’s rays, even in the shade.
The Karen Clifford Skin Cancer Charity warns that there were 8900 new cases of malignant melanoma reported in 2004 in the UK – the seventh most common cancer.
However, among 20-39-year-olds, it is the second most common cancer, with men being affected mostly on the torso while women are mostly affected on their legs.
The charity reports that rates of malignant melanoma in the UK have increased almost five times in males and have more than tripled in females, over the past 25 years.
Two key areas of advice conflict, depending on what you read. These relate to the reapplication of sun screen and whether you need to wear it in the shade.
The Netdoctor website, for example, says, “If the child is not exposed to direct sunlight, sunscreen is not usually necessary.”
This advice is misleading when you consider the likes of the Karen Clifford charity and Nivea say sun protection should be worn even in the shade – not just by kids.
Be wary, also, of claims by sun protection companies that say you shouldn’t need to reapply sun lotion once you have put it on.
This is very bad advice because sun lotions can wear off with sweat and water and it needs to be reapplied regularly.
Key facts you must know about sun protection for kids
- Many sun protection products are designed to protect against UV-B (which causes sunburn) but they don’t protect against UV-A (which can also cause skin cancer). Look for newer products containing the UV-A and UV-B protection.
- Children need additional protection because their skin’s ability to regenerate is still developing, and while skin cancer among children is rare, skin cancer develops over many years of exposure to the sun.
- Most people don’t put on enough sun protection. You should apply generous amounts at least 20 minutes before you go out, and then reapply every two hours while you are outside.
- Most daylight hours are dangerous times, and you should keep to the shade whenever possible – especially children. Cancer Research states quite simply that if your shadow is shorter than your height, you are at risk of burning.
- Shade and water do not protect you from UV rays, which are still present in shade and can penetrate water as far down as a metre or even more.
- Small children should always be kept in the shade, and sunscreen should still be applied.
- You should always use at least an SPF 15 product but SPF30 is commonly recommended as a safer minimum.
- You will not tan any less if you use a higher SPF, but it will just take longer.
- Make sure you are aware of conversion of SPF numbers. We’ve seen claims that American SPF numbers are double that in Europe – so if you buy an SPF 30 product in the USA, you will actually be buying what would be an SPF 15 in the UK. However, we haven’t corroborated this definitively so we don’t know if it’s true, although you can play safe by buying your products in the UK before you leave.
- One important note to bear in mind. If you go on holiday with a family of four and only one bottle of sun cream and you have some left when you get back, you haven’t used anywhere near enough.
- Even on cloudy days, you are exposed to around 50 per cent of the UV-A and UV-B rays that you get in direct sunlight.
Does sunburn indicate a higher risk of cancer?
Getting sunburnt doesn’t mean you are a higher skin cancer risk, but repeated and prolonged sunburn could be a factor.
Skin cancer generally develops over years of exposure to UV-A and UV-B, and whether your skin gets red through burning or not on your holiday is less of an indication than how frequently you are exposed.
This is one of the key reasons why children need extra protection, and because they like to run around on the beach or at the pool, they are likely to be exposed for much of their holiday.
How to deal with sunburn
- Always consult a doctor if a small child or baby has been sunburnt, or if blisters or a rash appear.
- Consider calamine lotion to cool burned skin. You can also cool the skin with tepid water for about half an hour.
- Don’t let the child get cold.
Which is the best sunscreen product?
The Karen Clifford Skin Cancer Charity says, “The average-sized adult should apply at least a teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm, leg, front of body and back of body and at least ½ a teaspoon to the face (including the ears and neck). That is, 35 ml of sunscreen for one full body application.”
Whether you use lotion that you pour out, spray out or rub on (in the case of the BananaBoat Kids Stick pictured), the key factor is the protection and the ingredients. Definitely look for both UV-B and UV-A protection.
Consider an organic product, compare labels to find those without alcohol, check for a high SPF number for children and a product that is specifically designed for children – these will have less irritants.
BananaBoat’s Tear Free sprays and lotions are a good example. The BananaBoat Kids Stick is a useful sun block product to give the kids so they can quickly apply more sun protection to face and hands as they are out and about.
Find out more about sunburn prevention
- Net Doctor
- Nivea Sun Care
- The Karen Clifford Skin Cancer Charity
- Cancer Research advice on sun protection
- The truth about UVA protection in sun creams
- Sun bed cancer warning
Some sun protection brands – further info
- Organic Children
- Nivea Children’s Sun Protection
- The Natural Skincare Company
- Irish Body Care company
- Banana Boat