I’m not talking about the eventual lifting of that metaphorical dark Covid 19 cloud, mums and dads, but the impending arrival of summer. Although summer this fateful year may not be the same as what we are used to, it will still bring heat, sunshine and UV exposure. We Aussies have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world and five bad sunburns in childhood more than doubles the risk of melanoma later.
So, how do we protect our children? For a start, keep them inside during the hottest part of the day when UV radiation is at its highest, and remember babies under 12 months should not be exposed to direct sunlight when UV levels are 3 or more.
The good news is that skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, so we must teach our kids to be SunSmart. Don’t be guided by temperature or cloud cover, it’s all about the UV index (check it out on the SunSmart phone app or with the Bureau of Meteorology website.) If it’s 3, ie. moderate, or higher, then, (speaking of SunSmart):
Slip on clothing that covers as much skin as possible, using light weight, closely woven, loose fitting clothing. Rashies and wetsuits are great at the beach.
Slop on sunscreen. Apply SPF30+ or higher on all uncovered skin, 20 minutes before going out and reapply every 2 hours. Use water resistant and broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Slap on a hat. Need to shade the face, back of your child’s neck, eyes and ears, so broad brimmed or legionnaire style is better than baseball caps.
Seek shade when you can, especially when children are playing outside, but even in the shade they still they need hats and sunscreen etc.
Slide on sunnies. Have to be rated category 2 or upwards to protect from UV rays. Wrap around is best and a rear elastic band to keep them on. Aussies are world champs at getting sun related vision threatening eye problems as well has suffering skin cancers.
More on sunscreen
Best not to use it on babies under 6 months because they tend to absorb more of the chemicals and their skin is more sensitive. It’s OK to use a little bit but the best plan is to cover them up and keep them out of the sun. Don’t let your baby get sunburnt.
There are 2 types of sunscreen, firstly the mineral ones that block or reflect UV radiation, generally containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They tend to leave a whitish colour behind after application. These are the best option for children as they don’t get absorbed into the skin. Then there are the chemical ones that absorb the UV rays, which contain synthetic chemicals like salicylates, are easier to apply, are invisible when rubbed in but are not as safe for kids.
Then you need to look at the Sun Protection Factor (SPF), which tells you how much UVB (which causes most sunburn) radiation is blocked by that product. You should go for SPF 30+ or 50+ (which provides only a small amount of extra protection over the 30+). It’s best to go for a Broad Spectrum one (covers UVA radiation too) that is water resistant as well. (It’s still best to reapply sunscreen after swimming anyway.)
So, the ideal choice for children/infants is the blocking/reflective/mineral variety, at least SPF30+, broad spectrum and water resistant. If your child or baby has sensitive skin then go for hypo allergenic, low additive (fragrances and preservatives) with no parabens or oils eg Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Baby SPF 50 Sunscreen (and there are lots of others.)
And you need to use plenty. Most people use around ¼ of the amount they should. Use around a shot glass full (empty it first!) for the whole body, including ½ teaspoon on the face, and don’t forget the lips. Sure it can be messy but not as messy as melanoma.
What about side effects of sunscreens? Sometimes you can get an irritant reaction especially on the face and eyelids. This is often not a true allergy but a sensitivity and you may just need to try different one. You can also get a true allergic reaction which is usually due to a chemical, eg preservative or perfume, in the base rather than a response to the active ingredient. This is uncommon.
It’s a good idea to try a little first, ie. rub a small amount into the inside of your little one’s forearm to see whether there is any reaction. If there is then you may need to go for a hypoallergenic option. If you can’t find a suitable one, then see your GP and maybe a dermatologist will need to do some testing to find what the is the actual source of the problem.