Living in this part of the world means that we are blessed with nearly all-year-round sunshine. Exposure to some sunlight is vital for children’s healthy development, especially in the production of vitamin D, which is necessary for strong bones and healthy teeth. However, too much sun can be very damaging to the skin, causing painful sunburn and leading to a higher risk of skin cancer developing later. This is why it is extremely important to protect your child from the sun.
How to protect children in the sun ?
Fifty per cent of total lifetime sunlight exposure occurs in childhood, but young children may not realise that they are becoming overexposed to the sun when they are playing outside. Breezes or water can cool the skin of children playing in the sun, so excessive exposure to sunlight is not noticed until they are burned, with lighter-skinned children more at risk than those with darker skin. If your child is playing outside, it is vital that their skin is protected through the following:
Shade & keeping out of direct sunlight
- Encourage your child to play in the shade, such as under trees when at a park, or under a parasol when at the beach
- Make sure that they wear a hat with a brim that provides shade for the face as well as protection for the head
- Clothing will provide shade and protect the area of the body that it covers, but not all fabric is the same in its sun protection qualities. Darker, thicker, heavier fabrics tend to block the sun better than lighter, thinner ones. One way of checking is by holding the clothing up to a light – if you can see through it, UV rays can penetrate it and reach the skin.
- Avoid your child being out in the sun between 11am and 3pm when it is at its strongest.
- Use sunscreen on the exposed areas of your child’s body when they are playing outside
- Sunscreen must have sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to be effective. Don’t consider buying anything less for your child
- When applying it, make sure you use enough to cover your child’s body. Half a handful (approximately 25ml) is usually enough for their entire body.
- Remember that sunscreen can come off through contact with water and be removed by sweating or by drying with a towel.
- Re-apply sunscreen every couple of hours during a day in the sun, particularly if they are in and out of water at the beach or pool.
- Remember that even when it is cloudy or overcast, 30-50 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can still penetrate through to the ground, so you should continue to apply sunscreen to your child even when the sun disappears from view
- Sunscreen use does not allow an increase in the time spent in sunlight.
What should I do if my child gets sunburn?
If your child develops sunburn, you should do the following:
- Cool the sunburnt area in warm water (approximately 250c) for 30 minutes to one hour. Don’t use too cold water, as this can close the skin pores and trap in heat.
- Lotions such as those containing calamine and aloe vera can help to cool and heal the skin. A pharmacist can also help advise about other aftersun preparations, which can remoisturise the affected area
- You should consult a doctor if:
- your child looks and acts very sick
- blisters or a rash appear.
- They develop a high temperature (greater than 400c)
- The area looks infected (e.g., it is draining pus, there are red streaks, or there is increasing tenderness)
- their skin is very red and painful
- they are unable to look at lights because of eye pain
- their feet are swollen