Be sun smart this summer
Protect your child’s skin – getting sunburnt as a child increases the risk of skin cancer in later life
- Almost half of adults in Ireland got sunburnt last year
- There are simple things you can do to reduce the risk in the sun
We all know that sunburn is harmful to our skin, but did you know that getting sunburnt as a child increases the risk of skin cancer in later life? At any age, spending time in the sun exposes your skin to ultra violet radiation (UV rays), which can damage your skin and lead to skin cancer. The good news is that there are simple things you can do to protect against UV rays, reduce the risk and keep your family safe in the sun.
UV exposure during the first 10-15 years of life makes a disproportionately large contribution to lifetime risk of skin cancer. Babies and children have lower concentrations of the skin pigment melanin and thinner skin. They are therefore more susceptible to the dangers of UV, and getting sunburnt as a child increases the risk of skin cancer in later life. In fact, severe sunburn during childhood (more than 3 instances before the age of 20) is associated with a 2-4 times higher risk of developing melanoma skin cancer, the most serious form of skin cancer.
Even without burning, tanned skin is damaged skin and is the body’s attempt to prevent further damage from UV.
The good news is that there are simple things you can do to reduce this risk and keep children safe in the sun.
How to protect your child’s skin:
- Seek shade when playing outdoors, use a sunshade on a buggy
Keep babies and children out of direct sunlight, especially between 11am and 3pm. This is when UV rays are at their strongest. Play in the shade of trees and use a sunshade on your buggy or pram.
- Slip on clothing that covers skin, with long sleeves, wide brimmed hat and sunglasses
You can protect your child’s skin from UV rays by covering it with clothes. You should dress babies in loose-fitting outfits that cover their arms and legs. Make sure the clothes are made from close-woven material that does not allow sunlight through. Babies and children should also wear a hat with a wide brim to protect their faces and necks from the sun. Hats with neck flaps at the back can also help protect your child’s neck. If your child is going to swim, wear swimwear that covers their shoulders and back.
You should also protect your children’s eyes from UV rays with sunglasses.
- Apply broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 50+ for children
Cover exposed parts of children’s skin with sun screen. Don’t forget to cover all areas especially the face, ears, neck, nose, lips and tops of the feet. Use sun screen with high UVA protection and water resistant. Reapply regularly, always after sweating when playing outdoors or swimming.
For babies, use clothes to cover up their skin as much as possible, as well as applying sunscreen to their exposed skin.
No sunscreen can provide 100% protection. It is the last line of defence and should be used alongside other protective measures such as clothing and shade.
Avoid getting a sunburn
Sunburn is painful, itchy and uncomfortable and is caused by the same UV rays that cause skin cancer. Almost half of adults in Ireland got sunburnt last year. If your child gets sunburnt, this could increase their risk of getting melanoma later on in life. While 86% of people use sunscreen on their children, far fewer use measures such as shade and clothing for sun protection. Many of us may mistakenly believe that sunscreen on its own gives total protection against sunburn.
Common pitfalls include:
– Accidentally leaving an area of skin unprotected, e.g. back of neck, feet
– Using too little sunscreen or forgetting to reapply it and
– Not appreciating the risk of sunburn because it doesn’t feel hot – it’s the UV radiation from the sun that causes skin damage, so it doesn’t need to feel hot.
Sunburn can happen both in Ireland and abroad, always protect your child’s skin from the sun.
Dr Triona McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, explains the important role that parents play in protecting their children from skin cancer later in life:
“Sunburn can happen both in Ireland and abroad. About 90% of harmful UV rays can also pass through light cloud, so take care on cloudy days too. Always protect your child’s skin from the sun, especially from April to September in Ireland. If you have children under your care it is especially important to think about protecting their skin. It’s important to be a good role model too – children will learn from what they see adults doing.”
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