Why You Shouldn’t Be Happy If Your Child Has A Suntan

After the recent heatwave in which the UK experienced the hottest June day since the summer of 1976, NHS England and the Met Office are reminding parents that a suntan is a sign of sun damage.

children playing in the sea

And a recent survey of 1000 parents with children under 11 suggests that a third of parents still believe going brown is good for children. Presumably, the same people who think slathering themselves in SPF 2 and stripping off as soon as the clouds part is a good idea.

A quarter has even encouraged their children to tan and, worse, a few have even allowed them to use sunbeds.

More than one in five (21%) of the parents questioned said they would only think about applying sunscreen if their child started to go red and burn.

Yes, it seems we still have an awful lot to learn about protecting ourselves against the damage the sun can do to our health, in particular, skin cancer.

A tan won’t stop the sun’s rays from causing harm and is our skin’s way of saying it’s damaged and is trying to protect itself.

It doesn’t even have to be warm. Since you can’t feel UV radiation, you can even get sunburnt on a cloudy day. The Met Office says that UV levels are usually highest between May and September and you can check the UV forecast on the Met Office website or app.

You know all those greyer, chillier summer mornings when you wonder whether you should slather sun cream on the kids before they go to school – well, you should.

We now know that repeated sun exposure can lead to skin cancer in later life.  Caitlin and Ieuan’s grandad has had at least 3 cancerous moles removed, most likely due to the (typically male) insistence that they don’t need sun cream.

It was in 1920’s that having a tan became a sign of wealth and influence because it meant you could travel to warmer climes. Tanning was allegedly made popular by the French fashion designer Coco Chanel.

Prior to that, it was a sign of being lower class as you were most likely a labourer or worked on the land in the heat of the sun.  A status symbol having a tan in past times was certainly not.

Funny how perceptions change, isn’t it?

So how should we be protecting our kids (and ourselves!) in the sun?

The basic advice is this:-

Infants under 6 months old should be kept OUT of direct strong sunlight.

From March to October in the UK children should cover up and spend time in the shade particularly from 11:00 am to 15:00 pm.

(I still find it gob-smacking that some school trips are organised for the beach at the hottest time of the day).

Kids should wear at least SPF15 sunscreen – mine get covered in SPF30 minimum. Face, ears, back of the neck, nape of the neck, arms and legs if they’re off to school.

Yes, it adds a good extra 10 minutes to the morning routine but it’s too important to miss.

Mine also wear sun hats and some of the best hats have a flap at the back of the neck to protect the delicate skin there.

Everyone should drink plenty of water to keep hydrated – that’s water not fizzy, sugary drinks.

You’ve probably heard, conversely, that we need some exposure to the sun to boost our Vitamin D levels but, according to Dr Nigel Acheson from NHS England, the recommendation is “that people spend no longer than 10 to 15 minutes in the UK summer sun, unprotected, several times a week”.

When that time is up you should apply sun protection.

A very handy mantra to use is ‘slip, slop, slap‘ – originally from the anti-skin cancer campaign in Australia in the 80’s featuring Sid The Seagull and recently updated.

Slip on sun protective clothing that covers as much of your body as possible.

Slop on SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen, at least 20 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply every two hours when outdoors or more often if perspiring or swimming.

Slap on a broad-brimmed hat that shades your face, neck and ears.

Seek shade.

Slide on sunglasses.

Wise advice for all ages.

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