Although in the past, spending time in the sun was lauded for the benefits of Vitamin D it offered, there has been a significant shift in attitudes towards sun safety in recent years, as a wealth of scientific research highlighting the link between excessive sun exposure and skin damage, including an increased risk of skin cancer, has been published. Consequently, sun safety for kids is now considered of paramount importance.
While there is much information on tweens and teen skincare, including the importance of SPF, it is even more vital to have a plan of action for younger children and babies in the sun. In fact, protecting the delicate skin of children and babies from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation is crucial due to their skin being sensitive and thinner than that of adults. It is worth remembering too that, because children enjoy spending time outdoors, particularly when the weather is sunny, this makes them more susceptible to sunburn and long-term damage, which unfortunately can significantly increase the risk of skin cancer in later life.
Indeed, according to a report by the Nevada Cancer Coalition, one in five will suffer from skin cancer in our lifetime, with UV radiation a key primary cause of the disease. While you may be cautious on holidays, sunburn can also happen on cloudy days, if the UV index is high, so cultivating sun-safe habits and using effective sun protection measures as soon as possible is an essential investment in children’s lifelong skin health and well-being.
How can I protect my child from sun exposure?
Here are eight top sun safety tips for kids:
Sunscreen Safeguard: Ensure your child is protected with a broad-spectrum sunscreen boasting SPF 30 or more, even during cloud-covered days. Regularly reapply every two hours, especially following swims or physical activity causing sweat. This practice shields their exposed skin from harmful UV rays and minimises the risk of sunburn and long-term damage.
Cover Up: Protect your child against UV rays by outfitting them in light, long-sleeved attire, complemented by broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses designed to block UV light. This ensemble effectively shields both their delicate skin and sensitive eyes from potential harm caused by excessive sun exposure. Also, invest in UV-protective swimwear and clothing, designed to block harmful UV radiation and reduce skin exposure.
Shade Seeker: Prioritize shaded areas, particularly during the sun's peak intensity from 10 am to 4 pm. Identifying these spots offers essential respite from the sun's most potent rays, reducing the risk of overexposure and potential skin damage. This precautionary measure is particularly crucial for safeguarding children's sensitive skin during outdoor activities, contributing to their overall sun safety. Perhaps consider choosing indoor play during the sun's peak hours to minimise exposure, and encourage outdoor play in the morning or late afternoon when the sun is not as strong.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Maintain your child's hydration by consistently providing water throughout their time outdoors, recognising that sun exposure can accelerate the onset of dehydration. Ensuring they drink water at regular intervals is essential in counteracting the fluid loss caused by the sun’s heat. Hydration not only supports their overall well-being, but also bolsters their ability to regulate body temperature and cope with the sun's potentially taxing effects.
Travelling safely: Employ sunshades or attach window screens in your vehicle to effectively reduce direct sun exposure when traveling. These protective measures help create a safer and more comfortable environment for your child, shielding them from the sun's intense rays that can penetrate windows. By doing so, you prioritise their well-being and minimise the potential discomfort and risks associated with prolonged sun exposure during car journeys.
Educate your child about sun safety: Nurture your child's understanding of sun protection by incorporating enjoyable activities, engaging stories, and meaningful conversations into their learning journey. This multifaceted approach cultivates responsible sun habits from a young age, emphasising the significance of safeguarding their skin. By blending education with entertainment, you empower them to make informed choices and take proactive measures against the sun's potential harm. This foundation lays the groundwork for a lifetime of mindful sun safety practices.
Plan regular skin check-ups: Arrange consistent appointments with a dermatologist to ensure vigilant oversight of your child's skin health and expediently address any emerging concerns. These regular check-ups provide an invaluable opportunity to catch and address potential issues early, safeguarding their skin's well-being. By fostering this proactive approach, you take a crucial step in promoting long-term skin health and minimising the risks associated with sun exposure and other skincare issues.
- Be a sun-safety role model yourself: consistently showcase sun protection practices that your child can readily adopt and integrate into their lifelong routines. Your commitment to responsible sun habits not only instils a deep understanding of the importance of skin protection, but also equips them with practical skills to navigate various sun-exposed situations. By leading through example, you empower them to cultivate habits that ensure their enduring skin health and well-being.
If this seems like a lot to remember, then the 5 S’s, namely “Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek, Slide”, which was a cornerstone of Nevada Cancer Coalition’s Sun Smart Nevada program, is a useful memory tool to use as a sun safety guide for kids.
Who Needs to be Extra Safe in the Sun?
Of course, there are certain people who need to exercise extra caution in the sun due to factors that increase their susceptibility to sun damage and skin-related issues:
- If your child has fair or light skin it means they have less melanin in their skin (the pigment that provides some natural protection against UV radiation) so they can be more vulnerable to sunburn and skin damage from UV exposure. This includes children with red hair and freckles.
- If your family has a history of skin cancer, particularly melanoma, this can indicate a genetic predisposition to the disease so you should take diligent sun protection measures to protect your child.
- If your child is under six months old, you should be extra strict with keeping safe in the sun. It is recommended to keep babies out of direct sunlight and protect their sensitive eyes with sunglasses that have both the CE Mark and British Standard and a UV 400 label, which tells you that the sunglasses offer 100 percent UV protection.
Understanding these risk factors can help individuals take proactive steps to protect their skin from the sun's harmful effects, reduce the risk of skin damage, and prioritise their long-term skin health.
How to choose the right sunscreen for kids
With so many products on the market, it can be difficult to decipher the differences and find the right product to protect your child’s delicate skin. But as a rule of thumb, when buying sunscreen, the label should have both a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to protect against UVB, and at least 4-star UVA protection.
Generally, sunscreens have to be backed by rigorous testing, and mineral ingredients with a proven track record of safety and efficacy are the most kind to skin. Mineral sunscreens that have Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide in their formulations form a physical barrier to prevent penetration from UV rays, while chemical sunscreens protect by soaking up UV rays, essentially converting them to heat. Both types of sunscreens have advantages and drawbacks and it’s important to remember that the risk from exposure to the sun outweighs any known risk from chemical ingredients.
Mineral sunscreens work as soon as they are applied, but you need to be mindful that they can get rubbed off on a towel or clothing. You’ll need to reapply, especially after swimming. They tend to be heavier and can leave a white cast on the skin which can act as a useful reminder.
Chemical sunscreens need time to be absorbed, which is why you need to apply between 20 and 30 minutes before going outside. Make sure you apply sunscreen to any exposed skin, the back of the neck, tops of the ears and right up to the hairline. Reapply more when kids are in and out of water, even the water-resistant ones. Crucially, don’t be misled into thinking children can be out all day just with a high SPF. To prevent heat stroke or heat exhaustion, children should avoid prolonged exposure.
What to do If Your Child has Sunburn or Heat Exhaustion
Despite parents’ best intentions, sometimes children can experience negative side effects of sun exposure, such as heat exhaustion or sunburn.
Children suffering heat exhaustion can become sleepy or floppy and may suffer from:
- dizziness and confusion
- loss of appetite and feeling sick
- excessive sweating
- pale, clammy skin
- cramps in the arms, legs and stomach
- fast breathing or pulse
- a high temperature of 38C or above
- excessive thirst
If your child is displaying any of these symptoms, lie them down in a shaded place and cool their skin with a water spray or sponge their skin with water. If they don’t feel better after 30 minutes or symptoms include a temperature over 40°C, they could be suffering from heatstroke so seek medical assistance.
If your little one does get sunburn, sponge sore skin with cool water, then apply soothing after-sun cream or spray, such as aloe vera. Painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, will ease the pain by helping to reduce inflammation caused by sunburn.
We recommend using soothing, child-friendly skincare products to look after your little one’s delicate skin and to avoid further irritation. For example, a sensitive bubble bath and fragrance-free moisturiser for children can help to nourish and protect sensitive skin.
When it comes to sunburn, while it can be tempting as it is to get back outside, stay well out of the sun until all signs of redness have gone.
The evolving scientific insights that link excessive sun exposure to skin damage and heightened skin cancer risk has emphasised the vital importance of rigorous sun safety for kids. The delicate nature of children’s skin and their outdoor affinity make implementing effective sun protection measures imperative. The provided guidelines from medical professionals, including sunscreen application, the use of protective clothing, seeking shade and educating children equip parents with the knowledge on how to protect children’s delicate skin.
Selecting the right sunscreen involves understanding the differences between mineral and chemical options, and considering children’s skin type, as well as how they will spend their day. While unintended effects including heat exhaustion and sunburn can occur, it is vital for parents to have a toolkit on dealing with these effectively and efficiently so any negative impacts are minimised.
Keep in mind that through nurturing conscientious sun habits and placing skin health at the forefront, parents can guarantee that their children's sun-soaked memories are not only lasting but safe too!