Sun Safety: how to protect your skin during hot weather
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK. There are at least 100,000 new cases of skin cancer every year. Melanoma is the third most common cancer among 15 to 39 year olds, and around 80 per cent of melanomas are caused by exposure to sunlight.
Most children enjoy fun in the sun, so it is important that parents and carers know how to protect children (and themselves) from the bad effects of exposure to the sun and help reduce the chance of skin cancer developing.
Unprotected sun exposure is even more dangerous for children with:
- Moles on their skins (or whose parents have a tendency to develop moles)
- Very fair skin and hair
- A family history of skin cancer, including melanoma.
- Not all sunlight is equal in UV concentration. The intensity of the sun's rays is strongest during summer.
With the right precautions, children can safely play in the sun. Avoid being in the sun for prolonged times when it is highest overhead and at its strongest. If a child is playing in the sun between 11am-3pm, make sure to apply protective sunscreen. Most sun damage occurs as a result of incidental exposure during day-to-day activities, not at the beach.
Even on cloudy, cool or overcast days, UV rays travel through the clouds and reflect off sand, water and even concrete. Clouds and pollution do not filter out UV rays and can give a false sense of protection. This 'invisible sun' can cause unexpected sunburn and skin damage. Children are often unaware that they are developing sunburn on cooler or windy days because the temperature or breeze keeps their skin feeling cool on the surface. The best way to protect your family from the sun is to cover up and shield the skin from UV rays.
Because infants have thinner skin and underdeveloped melanin (a chemical in the skin that protects the skin from sun damage by reflecting and absorbing UV rays) their skin burns more easily than older children's. Children under six months of age should be kept out of the sun whenever possible. Make sure infants who are exposed to the sun have clothing that covers the body, including hats with wide brims to shadow the face. An umbrella can be used to create shade.
- Older children need to be careful, too. Make sure they:
- Cover up as much as possible
- Use sunscreen
- Drink plenty of water to combat dehydration.
A sunscreen's SPF number tells you how much longer you can stay in the sun without burning. Sunscreen acts as a block. For children six months and older an SPF of 15 or higher prevents both sunburn and tanning.
Get ahead - get a hat!
When buying a hat for yourself or your child, think about:
- How thick the material is - you need a tightly woven fabric to give UV protection. A simple test for this is holding the hat up to the light and looking at how much comes through. The more light that comes through, the less protection.
- How cool the hat will be - natural fabrics, like cotton are cool.
- How comfortable and attractive the hat is to wear - the hat can only protect if you and/or your child wear it.
Remember the Sun Smart code:
- Spend time in the shade between 11am-3pm.
- Make sure you never burn.
- Cover up.
- Remember to take extra care with children.
- Always use factor 15+ sunscreen.