Top tips for keeping little ones safe from sun damage this summer
Sunny days are finally here and children can have fun in the sun provided you take some protective measures, writes Arlene Harris
As a sun-starved nation, we are always so thrilled to see a few rays that we often throw caution to the wind and bare all in an attempt to soak up as much vitamin D as we can.
But times are changing and nowadays most people are aware of the danger of too much sun exposure. And while being 'sun smart' should always be an essential part of everyone's summer plans, it is even more crucial to be aware of the negative effects of UV rays on our children's delicate skin.
Kevin O'Hagan is the health promotion manager for the Irish Cancer Society. He says there are a number of factors that influence the level of risk from skin damage, ranging from type of skin, amount of exposure and time of day and year. But regardless of what risk category they fall into, all children should be protected as much as possible.
"While skin cancer is rare in children, much of the UV damage that leads to it takes place in the early years of life," he says. "Research tells us that getting sunburnt in childhood or adolescence can increase the risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, in later life.
"Be aware that tanned skin is damaged skin. The tan a child gets may fade but the damage remains - and can lead to skin cancer later on. So by protecting children and young people's skin when they are outdoors, you can reduce their risk of developing skin cancer in years to come."
The Irish Cancer Society recommends that children use sunscreen with SPF30 and UVA protection. It doesn't matter if you choose a cream, spray, lotion or gel. It's also about teaching children about the need for sun protection.
The Sun-Smart Code
The irish cancer Society recommends following the Sun Smart Code to get the best possible protection when outdoors. This includes:
* Seel shade: when UV rays are at their strongest - generally between 11am and 3pm.
* Cover up: wear a shirt with a collar and long shorts. Also a hat which gives shade to the face, neck and ears.
* Wear wrap-around sunglasses: with UV protection.
* Slop on sunscreen: Use sunscreen with SPF15 (SPF30 for children) or higher and UVA protection 20 minutes before going outside and re-apply every two hours - more often if swimming or perspiring.
* Keep babies out of the sun.
O'Hagan says it's very important to help children develop an awareness of the need to protect their skin from the sun. By encouraging them to follow the Sun Smart code and leading by example, the expert says this will help to combat the risk of developing serious skin problems in later life.
"As children's skin is more sensitive to UV exposure and needs greater care both during childhood and adolescence, it is important to encourage them to develop good skin protection behaviours at an early stage," he advises. "This will stand to them throughout their lives and help reduce their risk of skin cancer. So parents and carers of young people need to act as role models in this regard - because we all know that what children see adults doing they will do themselves."
Dr Patrick Ormond, consultant dermatologist at St James' Hospital agrees and says the most important aspect of skin protection in children is the development of awareness which will last throughout life - he says learning how to dress and behave appropriately for hot weather is essential.
"Clothing is the basics of sun protection but it is not an absolute sun block," he advises. "A white T-Shirt has an SPF of about 7 and a wet white T-shirt has an SPF of 3. Darker colours are better as they absorb UV better than white. Sunscreens should be used as complementary to other methods of reducing sun exposure, such as clothing and staying out of the sun."