Reminders about staying sun safe in Australia appear to be never-ending. But there’s a reason for this. Skin cancer can be fatal. For Australians it is a disease that is way too prevalent.
Here’s a sobering statistic: according to the Cancer Council New South Wales, two out of three kids at school today will be diagnosed with skin cancer later in life – some of them with deadly melanomas. With statistics like this it is easy to understand the serious attention required by all of us to protect both young children and adults from the perils of skin cancer.
“Two out of three of the kids at school today will be diagnosed with skin cancer in later life – some of them with deadly melanomas.”
Cancer Council NSW
Babies and children are at particular risk of burning and damaging their skin through sun exposure due to the delicate nature of their skin. Exposure to UV radiation for a child under the age of 15 greatly increases the risk of developing skin cancer later in life.
The Cancer Council in New South Wales recommends that any child under the age of 12 months should NOT be exposed to direct sunlight.
How to protect children against sun damage when outdoors
Here are some key considerations for protecting young skin when playing outdoors:
Think ahead: plan the day’s activities in advance, scheduling any outdoor play away from prime sun damage time, or when UV radiation is at its highest (between 10 AM to 2 PM).
Clothing: where possible, cover a child’s skin with loose clothing made from tightly woven fabrics.
Sunscreen: always apply SPF 30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen to any area of a child’s skin that will be exposed to sunlight. Remember to use a water-resistant sunscreen if the child is swimming or playing near water.
Hats on: children’s faces may be exposed to UV radiation every day, especially on their lips, noses, ears, temples and necks. Strong sun rays can also cause damage to a child’s eyes. A wide-brimmed (think: more traditional Aussie outback style hat), legionnaire style hat (a hat with a deep peak and a flap that covers the neck) or bucket style hat (think: Woody Allen) that covers a child’s face, neck and ears should always be worn when in the sun. Wearing a hat when going outdoors should become a habit encouraged from a young age. This includes leaving the house to commute to school, playing in the garden, at the playground, during sporting activities and even general activities such as running errands and going shopping.
Pram protection: provide shade for strollers and prams. These days there are a wide variety of sun protective covers available for all shapes and sizes of strollers and prams.
When playing outdoors
- Try to encourage children to play in the shade or away from direct sunlight – particularly in prime (sunlight exposure) time.
- Reapply sunscreen, ideally every two hours.
- Do a clothing check now and then – reassess the child’s clothing and make sure they are adequately covered and comfortable, particularly if they have been swimming or playing with water.
Let’s talk about vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for all of us, vital for healthy bone growth, muscle strength and overall health. The best way of getting enough vitamin D is through exposure to UV radiation, which is, ironically, dangerous in large doses. Therefore, a balanced approach is required to generate enough vitamin D, as well as stay sun safe. The amount of sun exposure required for adequate vitamin D levels is minimal, and most children will receive more than enough sunlight to manufacture the vitamin just by going about their daily sun-safe activities. There is no need for a child to bake in the sun or spend time without a hat or protective clothing to absorb enough vitamin D.
A note on sunscreen
It must be remembered that sunscreen alone is not enough to provide complete sun protection. It is advisable that protective clothing is worn in addition to sunscreen. Occasionally a child will develop a reaction to sunscreen. If this is the case, choose a different brand of sunscreen, or one that is manufactured especially for children or those with sensitive skin.
Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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