Protecting Kids From the Sun This Summer

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Summer is a great time for the whole family, whether you’re heading abroad or staying at home, you’ll want to make the most of it. We all tend to get a little carried away when it comes to enjoying the warm weather, but with more and more information now available to parents, it’s become so much easier to protect our children from the dangers of sun exposure.

The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates 80% of lifetime exposure happens during childhood, whilst one blistering sunburn can double a child’s chances of getting melanoma in later life. These are issues that not every parent knows much about, but the increasing research surrounding the potential dangers of this exposure mean we can begin to protect our little ones. 

Starting early

Although the sun is a vital element in providing Vitamin D, which helps absorb to calcium and prevent diseases such as rickets, it’s also important to note that the sun can be incredibly harmful. As children are in a dynamic state of growth, they are more prone to the harmful effects than adults because vital functions such as the immune system are not yet fully evolved and damaging environments may have an adverse effect on their development.

When treating infants under 6 months old, it is advised that they should be kept out of the sun. Their skin is far too sensitive for sunscreen and because they possess little melanin, the pigment that gives colour to skin, eyes and hair; they are more vulnerable to the sun’s harmful effects.

In terms of steps parents can take, mesh window shields are perfect for car rides or even a UV Window film, which screens almost 100% of ultraviolet radiation without affecting visibility. If you want to go on walks with your child, the best times are early in the morning before 10am or after 4pm, as the sun is strongest between 11am and 3pm. A pram with a cover is also necessary. Your should be wearing light clothes that cover any bare skin and a wide-brimmed hat can be just as important – children should get used to wearing hats from an early age.

The basics

From the age of 6 months onwards, it is considered safe for children to wear sunscreen, which in turn, means greater presence in the sun. SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 30 is the minimum required sunscreen for protection amongst children and should have at least 4 UVA Stars (this indicates the strength of the cream against UVA rays, which are deeper penetrating and more damaging to the skin). It should be applied 30 minutes before going out in the sun and reapplied every two hours, or after swimming. However, most waterproof sunscreens should withstand 4 X 20 minutes of swimming, but are only effective if you air dry and don’t use a towel. It’s also better to use sunscreens which contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which cause less irritation to sensitive skin.

With toddlers it is important to ensure you continue to apply the same techniques as before but even more crucial to set a good example. As your children get older, their cognitive development will improve, meaning they can begin to understand why skin protection is necessary. If your child sees you following sun-safety rules, they are far more likely to follow suit.

Which sunscreen?

Sunscreen is definitely the most essential tool a parent has in fighting against sunburn. There are plenty of ways to determine a lotion’s SPF, so it’s good to know beforehand what to buy. American SPF numbers for example, are usually twice as high as the SPF numbers on European products. This means that an American SPF 30 sun cream is in fact equivalent to European SPF 15. Reapplying sunscreen throughout the day is essential and even if it is cloudy, 30-50% of ultraviolet rays can still reach us, even in overcast weather.

As children’s skin is only one fifth as thick as adult skin, its barrier function is naturally less effective, which means choosing specialist products such as Eucerin SUN Kids Spray SPF 50 and Nivea Sun Kids Sensitive Sun Spray SPF 50+ is a smart option for parents. Not only do these have the strength to help protect your child’s skin from sunburn and reduce the risk of long term UV skin damage, they are also specifically formulated with delicate skin in mind – alleviating any worries about a reaction to the chemicals. 

Post-sunburn tips

Sunburn, although preventable is sometimes unavoidable, but there are still a number of ways to help soothe the pain once it’s happened. Calamine lotion has been proven to help ease the pain; working as a counter-irritant, the calamine evaporates after application to the skin, producing a cooling effect that distracts from the pain. Another solution is cooling the burnt skin in tepid water (around 25C) for 30 minutes to an hour. Although these methods can nullify the pain, seeing a doctor is always advised if a small child is burnt, particularly if the burns are very red and painful and seeing a pharmacist may also be useful, as they will be able to advise you on aftersun products which can help with the cooling and remoisturising process. 

Parents should always keep in mind that although protecting their children this summer is important, that shouldn’t stop them running around and having fun. Peter Cornall, head of leisure at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) says: “Summer is a great time for children to get out and experience the world around them, […] you do need to be aware of safety issues, but this isn’t a reason to stop children enjoying activities.”

The sun is a natural source of Vitamin D so it’s important to take full advantage of its rare appearances in the UK. Infants can be especially at risk of Vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to more serious health problems. So while you set about protecting your kids from the sun’s harmful rays, just make sure you don’t let it prevent the whole family from experiencing all the summer has to offer.