I find myself a little uncertain about the best way to protect my kids from the sun. I’m very sallow myself and take the sun well, so it’s an added worry to have a fair skinned daughter. At the beach recently I wondered how often I should apply sunscreen and how long was OK to be in direct sunlight. The internet has endless information that I found useful and I think it will be useful for other parents too. It surprised me and I realised I’m not comprehensive enough, at all, in my own approach to sun protection.
- Use a good sunscreen SPF 30-50 and make sure is in date. Apply it every two hours and more regularly if in and out of the water.
- Plan outdoor events so that your child is indoors as much as possible between 11am and 3pm. Encourage children to play in the shade when they are outdoors.
- Remember that ultraviolet radiation can be reflected onto your child even when they are in the shade, so use clothing, a hat and sunscreen too.
- Dress your child in loose-fitting outfits with long sleeves and long shorts. Make sure they are made from close-woven material.
- Dress your child in a wide-brimmed hat which protects the neck, ears and face. A hat that ties under your child’s chin may stop them from taking it off.
- Use sunglasses to protect your child’s eyes. The sunglasses should have the European Standard (EN 1836) or British Standard (BS 27 24 19 87).
Choosing a sunscreen
Sunscreens filter out UVB radiation, they do not block it completely. For better protection go for “broad-spectrum” lotions, which filter both UVB and UVA radiation.
The Irish Cancer Society recommends that children always use the high-protection sunscreens, SPF 30-50. The correct SPF (sun protection factor) is important, but higher numbers do not automatically mean double the protection. You will still need to apply the sun lotion every two hours, and more often if your child is in the water or sweats.
Even the best sunscreen, applied regularly will not protect you fully. Do not let your child spend too long in the sun, especially if her skin is fair.
Always check the expiry date and try choosing a water-resistant sun lotion. An expensive sunscreen does not automatically give more protection.
Always use and apply the sun lotion generously, 20 minutes before going out into the sun. An adult needs about six teaspoons of sunscreen, a child of seven or eight needs abut 30 ml for the full body. This means that a 200 ml bottle should not last you more than six applications.
Our shoulders and faces are the first to get sunburned, but do not forget to apply sunscreen on hands, feet, ears and necks. If your child has a reaction to the sunscreen try a different brand, maybe one without perfume or an organic brand.
In case of sunburn and sunstroke
Sunburn is overheated skin that has been over-exposed to UV radiation. It is a type of burn and appears about six hours after being in the sun. Sunburn can take a few days to heal and can be very painful. The burn will heal and the skin peel, but your skin cells will be damaged for much longer.
Try cooling the burn with cool water, after sun lotions, wet soft towel or even cold natural yogurt.
When the body is overheated from sun exposure, sunburn or lack of fluids, there is a risk of sunstroke. Children cannot regulate their body temperature as well as adults, and are more prone to sunstroke.
Your child might get a headache, vomit, get diarrhoea, fever and feel dizzy. The most important thing is to give fluids and even fluid replacements, keep her out of the sun and let her rest in a cool room.
Contact your GP if you have any worries about your child’s condition.
You can check the daily Irish UV index online at Met Eireann.
How can I protect my baby?
Damage to our skin begins with our first exposure to sunlight. It builds up year after year. So the exposure we get during childhood increases our chances of skin cancer later in life.
A baby has delicate skin that is thinner and burns more easily than an adult’s skin. Newborn babies, in particular, and babies less than 12 months old should be kept out of the direct sunlight as much as possible.
- Dress your baby in loose outfits that have long sleeves and long pants. Make sure they are made from a close-woven material.
- When your baby begins to hold up their head, dress them in a soft hat with a flap at the back. When your child is older and can sit unaided, use a hat with a tie under the chin .
- Plan outdoor events so that the baby is kept indoors as much as possible between 11am and 3pm.
- When babies are outdoors, keep them in the shade as much as possible. Use an umbrella to protect your child while they are in their pram or buggy.
- Apply sunscreen to small areas of skin that cannot be protected with clothing, such as your baby’s face and hands.
Should I put sunscreen on my baby?
Keep your baby out of the sun and protected with clothes, hats and shade. Then you only need to use sunscreen on the areas of skin that are not protected by clothing.
If possible, use a sunscreen that is made especially for babies and children. And always patch test the sunscreen on your baby’s skin before you use it. Some babies may get skin irritation from sunscreen.
The truth about sunshine
Our skin is always exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, it is when our unprotected skin is exposed to higher levels of the radiation that we need to take care. Children often spend more time outdoors and need more UV protection than adults.
Sunlight is composed of infra-red, visible and ultraviolet light. While we need some exposure to create the necessary vitamin D, which in turn helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus, it is the ultraviolet radiation that is harmful to us.
Ultraviolet light consists of UVA (ultraviolet radiation A) and UVB (ultraviolet radiation B).
UVB– makes the skin star producing pigmentation and become thicker, but also burns and is harmful to skin and eyes. The radiation varies, depending on how high the sun is in the sky.
UVA – darkens the pigmentation made by UVB radiation, but high-exposure ages the skin and can cause skin cancer.
Be aware that UV radiation is not filtered away by window glass, so be careful when letting a child or baby sleep or play unprotected by a window.
Let’s hope this great weather continues long enough to become sunscreen experts!