Top Tips for Being Sun Smart

by Jadwiga O'Brien on July 17, 2011


Frequent sunburn can lead to skin cancer - Kids get 80% of their lifetime sun exposure before the age of 18 – good reasons to be sun smart!

Photo:rockinfree licensed under Creative Commons

Protecting your child’s skin from sun damage is really important. When your kids are playing outside this summer, be sure to follow our tips on being sun smart!

Many people don’t realise that when your skin goes red from being out in the sun, it’s not a healthy glow – it’s skin damage caused by ultra-violet (UV) radiation.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and Ireland – and it is usually caused by over-exposure to UV rays and frequent sunburn.

Children’s skin is much more sensitive than adults, so extra care should be taken to protect their skin from sun damage. Children with fair skin, fair hair, red hair and blue eyes are more prone to sun damage – so if your kids have fair skin you’ll need to especially careful.

Stay in the Shade

Avoiding the sun when it is strongest may seem an obvious tip, but it’s one that pays off. The sun is usually strongest when it is highest – between 10am and 4pm. Be careful what kind of shade you choose to stay under – trees, umbrellas and canopies don’t always block out harmful rays. The World Health Organisation has a good rule to follow about when to get under shade:

“Watch your shadow – Short shadow, seek shade!”

Check the UV Index

If you have access to the internet, checking the UV index is a quick and easy way to see how high UV levels will be on a particular day. If the levels are moderate or above, you’ll need to take extra precautions to protect your children from sun damage. The index is easy to understand and colour coded.

Cover Up

Loose light layers of clothes will protect your kids from the sun whilst still keeping them cool – clothes create a direct barrier between the suns rays and your skin.

You can buy special lightweight sun-suits for younger kids which block UV rays. These can be expensive, but if you look around online you might get a bargain. We recently found a child’s sun suit here for one third of the high-street price.

If your kids don’t have sun-suits (which are mainly for younger kids anyway), long trousers or 3/4 length shorts, skirts and shirts are also great. Broad-rimmed hats are also a good way to protect face, neck and ears from sun damage. Baseball caps are not really suitable for sun protection as they leave your neck and ears exposed.

Wear Sunglasses

Get your children in the habit of wearing sunglasses. It has been estimated that 3.2 million people worldwide may be blind due to to UV radiation exposure. Sunglasses not only help you to see better on sunny days, they can also protect your eyes from sun damage.

However, you need to be sure that your sunglasses are blocking UV rays. Sunglasses with no UV protection can actually be dangerous – they cause your pupils to dilate and make your eyes more prone to damage.

Look for either “100% UV Protection” or “UV 400” on sunglasses’ labels. You don’t need to spend a lot as many low cost sunglasses offer very good protection – just be sure to check their UV rating. Wrap-around sunglasses are also great as they don’t allow UV light to enter from the side.

Use Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen

Sunscreen should only be used as a last resort for UV protection – the best protective measures are to avoid over-exposure to strong sunlight and to wear sun-protective clothing.

Look for the “SPF” rating of sunscreen, which stands for “Sun Protection Factor”. A minimum SPF15 sunscreen should be used, but higher factors may be needed for younger children or those with fair complexions. Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before your children actually go outside and should be reapplied every 2 hours.

Make sure to cover all skin that’s going to be exposed to the sun. If your child sweats or swims while wearing sunscreen, it’s best to reapply more.

When buying sunscreen, make sure to look for one which protects against both UV-A and UV-B rays (known as broad-spectrum).

Organic sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are best, as they reflect light away from skin rather than allow it to be absorbed.

Say No to Sunbeds

Research shows that sunbed use is associated with an increased risk for melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer. The WHO recommends that  nobody under the age of 18 should use sunbeds and that sunbeds should never be used for cosmetic purposes.

It has only in the last few years that legislation has been passed in Scotland, England and Wales banning the use of sunbeds for under 18s. Similar legislation is currently being drafted in Ireland.

Going Abroad

Given the time of year, many of us will be seeking out the sun for our holidays. It is even more important to be sun smart when you are taking your family abroad as the temperature and UV index can be much higher than what you may be used to. For example, the current UV index for the UK and Ireland is “moderate”, compared with Tenerife, where the UV index is “extreme”. All the more reason to be sun smart.

Get Sun Smart: Checklist!

  • Check the UV Index
  • Be especially careful if you have a fair complexion
  • Stay in the shade
  • Cover up in light loose clothing
  • Wear sunglasses that have UV protection
  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreen
  • Never ever use sunbeds

Whether you’re going abroad or holidaying locally this summer, be sure to enjoy the time with your family and stay sun smart!

Are you sun smart? Leave a comment and tell us how you protect your child’s skin!

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