Creating a new SunSmart generation is important, and skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers.
Exposure to too much of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause sunburn, skin and eye damage and skin cancer. The UV damage accumulated during childhood and adolescence is strongly associated with an increased risk of skin cancer later in life.
When should I protect my child?
Cancer Council Australia’s free SunSmart app shows daily UV levels and sun protection times. The sun protection times are a forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology for the time of day that UV levels are forecast to reach three or above – the level UV can start to damage skin and eyes.
Sun protection times are also available in the weather section of the newspaper, at cancer.org.au and myuv.com.au. UV can’t be seen or felt so don’t just wait for hot and sunny days to use sun protection.
How should I protect my child?
Use a combination of sun protection measures (hat, clothing, sunscreen, shade and sunglasses) whenever UV Index levels reach three or above.
Whatever the weather, during the sun protection times, encourage the whole family to use these 5 sun protection measures.
- SLIP on clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
Cool, loose fitting clothing made from densely woven fabric is best. Help your child choose tops that cover the torso with higher necklines and three-quarter length sleeves and longer style shorts and dresses/skirts that at least reach the knee. Try layering – a favourite singlet top with a shirt over it, or a favourite singlet dress with a t-shirt underneath. Look for clothing labelled UPF50 which helps provide the best possible protection and don’t forget rashies for swimming.
- SLOP on SPF30 (or higher), broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen.
The widespread use of sunscreen on babies under six months is not generally recommended.
Apply sunscreen to any parts of skin not covered with clothing about 20 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours or more often if it has been wiped or washed off. Remember sunscreen is not a suit of armour and should only ever be used with other sun protection measures. Store sunscreen below 30 degrees and monitor the expiry date.
If you are concerned about reactions to sunscreen, do a usage test before applying a new sunscreen, where a small amount of the product is applied on the inside of the forearm for a few days to check if the skin reacts. If there’s no reaction, apply sunscreen to other parts of the skin.
To help develop independent skills ready for school, teach your child from about three years how to apply their own sunscreen. Set up a sunscreen station with a pump pack and mirror in the bathroom or near the back door. Make sunscreen application a bit of fun and put a big dot of sunscreen on each cheek, nose and their chin and carefully rub it in (avoiding the eye area). Add sunscreen squiggles or the first letter of their name to rub on any part of their arms and legs not covered with clothing. Apply your sunscreen at the same time so your child can watch how you do it and follow your example.
- SLAP on a hat that shades the face, neck and ears such as a wide-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire hat. Caps and visors do not provide enough protection and are not recommended.
For young babies, choose a hat with fabric that will crumple easily when they put their head down. Consider the hat’s size and comfort, the amount of shade it provides to the face, if it will obstruct vision, hearing or safety. Hats that can be adjusted at the crown are best. If the hat is secured with a long strap and toggle, ensure it has a safety snap, place the strap at the back of the head or trim the length so it doesn’t become a choking hazard.
Help make hat-wearing a regular part of the outdoor routine. Help your child find a favourite sun hat they like to wear and can easily find. Perhaps have a special basket or hook to store hats. Don’t forget to grab your hat too.
It is recommended that babies under 12 months are kept away from direct sun when UV levels reach 3 or above. Keep them in dense shade or when moving about, choose a pram cover that combines a mesh section for visibility and air circulation with a shade fabric section. The fabric section should block close to 100% of UV radiation (UPF50+) and the mesh section should block at least 70% of UV radiation (UPF3.3).
Find shady spots for outdoor play. Encourage your child to help you move activities to follow the shade. Create shady play spaces by laying a blanket under the tree, choosing a good spot for the shade umbrella or helping to drape thick fabric such as canvas over the clothes line for a built-in shade tent. You may need to take shade with you for family outings or choose places that already have shade.
- SLIDE on a wrap-around sunglasses (labelled AS1067).
Toy or fashion-labelled sunglasses do not meet the requirements for sunglasses under the Australian Standard and should not be used for sun protection.
Wearing a hat with a brim that shades the eyes can reduce UV radiation to the eyes by 50%.
For further information on sun protection, head to cancer.org.au/ or call on 13 11 20. Should you need information in another language, call 13 14 50 and ask to be connected to Cancer Council in your language.
(This article has been contributed to by Cancer Council Australia, a recognised not-for-profit organisation which aims to promote cancer-control policies and to reduce the illness caused by cancer in Australia.)