Kids love to play in the sun whether its on the beach, in the garden or even on the ski slopes; the sun is a powerful source of radiation and some of it is very harmful while some of it is essential for health. So, how do you strike a balance ?…
The body needs sunlight to help regulate sleep patterns and to generate Vitamin D for healthy bones as well as a number of other less well known benefits for sufferers of certain ailments but can aggravate some conditions such as eczema. In recent years it has been increasingly reported that over-exposure to sunlight can have devastating long term effects and as parents we have a duty to ensure our children have the maximum protection particularly when spending long periods outdoors in strong sunlight.
What are UVA/UVB ?
The sunlight includes two particularly powerful but invisible wavelengths of light known as Ultraviolet A and Ultraviolet B, known as UVA and UVB for short. UVA penetrates deep into the skin and can cause skin cancer and premature ageing. Excessive UVB on the other hand causes what we traditionally know as sunburn; the painful reddening of the skin, peeling and even blistering in severe cases.
How much UV is there today ?
Well it depends on several factors: time of year, latitude, altitude, cloud cover, time of day, ozone levels and sun activity etc. So on a cloudy day on the North pole there might be very little UV risk whereas a sunny summer day in the tropics it can be very extreme indeed. Fortunately for the UK and over 400 other cities there is a simple forecast issued by the Met Office which gives an indication of the predicted strength of UV. See http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/health/public/uvindex
What is SPF ?
Many products, notably sun cream, quality beach and swim wear, good sunglasses, some outdoor sports clothing etc are marketed with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating. The idea is that the SPF number indicates the level of protection from harmful rays versus using no protection at all. So, using a SPF 30 UVA/UVB cream should allow exposure for 30 times longer than without it. In practice though it is almost impossible to apply sun cream perfectly evenly so its best to use a higher rating. Most creams tend to be much less effective against the more damaging UVA rays so although burning may have been avoided, deeper damage might still have been done.
Bear in mind that creating products, testing and certifying them with SPF ratings will be reflected in the price; if you find cheap products offering amazing protection ask yourself if its too good to be true. We advise sticking to high quality brands and reputable retailers.
How do I protect my children ?
Unfortunately its not a simple answer as there are such a lot of factors to consider but here are some top tips:
- Chose high SPF broad spectrum waterproof sun creams which offer the best combination of UVA/UVB and higher protection levels
- Apply sun cream in a thick layer as evenly as possible and read the instructions to ensure it is applied early enough before exposure to be effective, this is particularly important for waterproof types.
- Reapply sun cream regularly, it wears off and washes off and is unlikely to be providing quite as high a protection as the bottle announces after a short while.
- Avoid skin exposure during the period where the sun is highest in the sky, around midday +/- an hour or so. Cover up, seek shelter under sunshade or move indoors for a spot of lunch.
- Check weather report for UV forecast and decide the days activities accordingly.
- Beach, water and snow are excellent reflectors and will increase UV levels very significantly, take extra precautions.
- Although less common for children, mountain climbers know only too well that UV increases with altitude because protection from the thinner atmosphere lets more UV through potentially causing very painful snow blindness. Skiers of all ages should therefore always wear protective eye-wear rated appropriately for the altitude.
- Wear clothing with a high SPF treatment, our Mitty James children’s beach and swim wear lines for example includes sunhats, sun dresses, rash vest and rash shorts which are all SPF treated. Wearing SPF rated clothing has the added benefit of reducing the amount of skin requiring sun cream so while there might be a slight price penalty when initially buying SPF rated sun clothing it more than pays for itself compared to the cost of extra sun cream normally needed under conventional clothes.
- Drink plenty of watery drinks to avoid dehydration
- Wear a UV rated sun hat, preferably with a neck covering to protect the vulnerable scalp where cream is difficult/impossible to apply.
- Set a good example – look after yourself too and your kids will be more likely to follow your lead.