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January 21, 2020
Everyone needs sun protection. It doesn’t matter who you are, how many years you’ve lived, or the tone of your skin; we’re all susceptible to sun damage. This includes children, who experience up to 80% of their lifetime exposure to UV before they reach the age of 18. In fact, kids’ skin is more sensitive than adults’ and UV radiation can cause long-term consequences, including an increased risk of skin cancer.
We understand: getting children to stay still long enough to put on sunscreen can be a challenge, but it really is for the best! After reading this article, we hope you will understand why and will be able to take the necessary steps to protect them from the sun.
Please check the Cancer Council’s website for more information on how to protect babies under the age of 6 months.
UV radiation, in the form of UVA and UVB rays, is emitted from the sun and penetrates the ozone layer to reach the Earth’s surface. The UVB rays are the culprits of sunburn.
UVB rays have short wavelengths, which penetrate the outer layers of your skin and damage the cells in your epidermis. Your immune system detects the damage and responds by sending more blood to the affected areas, causing that telltale redness. The burning is caused by chemicals, which are released by the damaged cells, sent to your brain and interpreted as pain.
Although short-lived, sunburn should serve as a warning for potential long-term DNA damage and can cause further complications, which we will explain later on.
When your skin is exposed to UV radiation, it produces melanin (a pigment that colours your skin, eyes and hair) to mitigate the damage. It’s melanin that causes suntan. However, do not mistake a tan for more protection against the sun - studies have shown that a suntan can increase your risk of developing skin cancer and offers barely any SPF protection against the UV rays. Therefore, a suntan is not a great substitute for sunscreen, shade and covering up.
The sun can have many long-term consequences for children who are overexposed. Here are the main risks:
The UVB rays that cause sunburn, can also damage the cornea and cause cataracts. The risk of this is increased at high altitudes or in snowy environments, due to higher exposure and the reflections of UVB rays from bright surfaces.
Too much sun exposure can lead to your children experiencing premature skin ageing. The UVA rays have a longer wavelength, which allows them to penetrate the skin more deeply, where they break down collagen and elastin fibres. Frequent sun exposure can lead to wrinkles, reduced skin elasticity and dark (liver) spots.
Moreover, both UVA and UVB rays contribute to the increased risk of skin cancer. This is caused by damage to DNA, which can lead to uncontrolled proliferation of skin cells. Whilst non-melanomas are more common, melanomas can also occur and are more dangerous to our health. Furthermore, over-exposure to UV radiation can cause suppression of the immune system, leading to a reduced immune response to cancerous cells.
All of this sounds scary, right? We know there’s a lot to comprehend, but there are several ways in which you can protect your children from these risks. Based on evidence from studies and cancer organisations, we’ve compiled a list of the best ways to protect children from the sun:
The Cancer Council recommends that you should wear sunscreen whenever the UV levels are 3 or above. For the best protection, your children should use a high SPF and broad-spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen. It should also be chemical-free to protect your child’s health and well-being and waterproof to remain effective despite the conditions, including sweat, tears and water! And if you want to protect the coral reefs whilst you’re at it, then a reef-safe sunscreen is a must.
Not summer anymore? You still need to use sunscreen on your children during winter!
Check out our article on How to Apply SunButter Sunscreen for more information on how and when to use it!
Be considerate about keeping children inside or in the shade during the hottest parts of the day (usually between 12pm and 4pm). UV rays still bounce off surfaces, so sun damage can still occur indoors or in the shade. So be mindful of where you are and make sure you’re still wearing suitable protection.
UVB rays are filtered out through glass, but UVA still penetrates. Therefore, using UV-protective window film on car windows can be helpful to protect your children during long car journeys.
Sunscreen is great, but one of the best ways to protect children’s skin is to cover them up with protective clothing. Appropriate clothes include wide-brimmed hats, loose-fitting long-sleeved t-shirts, etc. It’s important to cover sensitive areas, such as shoulders, chests, heads and faces.
Covering up includes wearing sunglasses. However, not all sunglasses are created equal. Buy UV-protective shades with a recognised safety standard mark to shield your child’s eyes from those UV rays.
Make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids to replace those lost during the day and to prevent them from becoming dehydrated! Additionally, keeping the skin hydrated will help reinforce the skin’s resistance to UV radiation.
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