Winter is here! Even though the cooler months are well and truly upon us we shouldn’t become complacent when it comes to sun protection for our infants and young children! As a parent or care giver of a child it is our responsibility to ensure our children are adequately protected from the sun and the harmful UV rays, therefore significantly helping to prevent skin cancer later in life.

Did you know… that the Cancer Council does not recommend the use of sunblock on babies under the age of 6 months? Therefore, it is vitally important to protect your children from the sun using other methods because babies’ skin is so sensitive.

 

Background

Cancers of the skin are the most common cancers in humans, with Australia and New Zealand having the world’s highest incidence. Each year, more than 1,500 Australians die from melanoma and a further 600 die from cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas [1].

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) is the main cause of skin cancer [2] and overexposure to UV during childhood and adolescence is a major factor in determining future skin cancer risk [3].

It is estimated that two in three Australians will develop some form of skin cancer (melanoma and/or nonmelanoma) before the age of 70. Protecting the skin from exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) has been identified as the simplest and most effective way to prevent skin cancer [4]

 

Ultraviolet Radiation

Sun protection measures are recommended when the UV Index is 3 and above [5]

Regularly check the Bureau of Meteorology’s website (BOM) for the daily UV Index.

Ultraviolet radiation can be extremely harmful, and you can’t see it. Even on a cool day the UV exposure can be level 3 which is considered moderate therefore sun protection is a must

UV Index from BOM

1,2 – Low

3,4,5 – Moderate

6,7 – High

8,9,10 – Very high

11+ – Extreme

Important Tips

  • Keep babies 12 months and under out of direct sunlight as much as possible
  • Seek other forms of sun protection for babies under the age of 6 months such as shade, clothing and a hat
  • Minimise time outside when UV levels are highest usually between 10 am and 3 pm
  • Look for clothing that is UV 50+
  • Apply sunscreen 20 mins before you go outside
  • Sunscreen should be re-applied every 2 hours or more frequently if swimming, sweating or towel drying
  • UV rays can penetrate through the clouds, therefore, on a rainy or overcast day you can still get sunburnt
  • We are only human and as parents we can be become so busy, so ask your children to remind you (if you happen to forget) to apply their sunblock! My kids love reminding me of things I have forgotten so get them into the habit of asking you to apply sunblock before leaving the house
  • Create a morning to do chart and write sunscreen application on there so the whole family remembers – create that habit
  • Check the expiry date of your sunscreen!! It may not offer any protection if it has expired

Daycare and Schools have a role to play too

From about the age of 5 our children will be spending a significant amount of time at school. Considering the peak times for UV radiation are between 10am and 3pm then it is vitally important to find out what the policy is for our school age children to ensure they are being adequately protected from the sun. This is just as important at daycares including home daycares because our children can spend a lot of time outdoors and once again throughout the peak times for UV radiation exposure. If your child goes to daycare or school, ask the daycare what their policy is for sunscreen application so that you feel comfortable that this important practice won’t be forgotten prior to your child going outside to play.

Prevention is Paramount!

For best protection, the Cancer Council recommend a combination of sun protection measures as follows:

  1. Slip on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
  2. Slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30 (or higher) sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
  3. Slap on a hat – broad brim or legionnaire style to protect your face, head, neck and ears.
  4. Seek shade.
  5. Slide on some sunglasses – make sure they meet Australian Standards.

How to apply sunscreen and when

Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before exposure to UV radiation in order to create the intended protective barrier [5]. It should be applied liberally and evenly to clean and dry skin.

For an adult, the recommended application is 5ml (approximately one teaspoon) for each arm, leg, body front, body back and face (including neck and ears). That equates to a total of 35ml (approximately seven teaspoons) for a full body application. Try and divide this by half or quarter for your child depending on their size the main thing to remember is to be LIBERAL and don’t miss any areas.

Sunscreen should always be reapplied at least every two hours, irrespective of the water resistance of the sunscreen. Swimming, sport, sweating and towel drying can reduce the effectiveness of the product, so sunscreen should always be reapplied after these activities.

Note: Our family uses the cancer council kids SPF 50 sunscreen and it is fantastic!! It isn’t thick, and it absorbs easily. We have also found it is great for my daughters’ sensitive skin. Always do a test patch on the inner forearm before using any sunscreens on your child to make sure there is no sensitivity or allergies.

Always use sun protection products such as sunblock, hats and rashies as per the manufacturer’s instructions and if you have any concerns in regard to your personal situation please seek advice from your Doctor.

A little story to finish on to think about our ozone layer

When I was in my early 20’s I worked on a cruise ship. We were fortunate enough to travel around the world, we followed the summer and most of my co-workers from some 26 countries loved to sunbake on the back deck of the ship whilst on their lunch break. This was an eyeopener for me to see how much some people loved the sun and I can understand when you come from Scandinavia and it is completely dark for a few months of the year.

I started to notice that as we migrated into the waters surrounding Australia people were beginning to look like lobsters and were so burnt from their routine hour in the sun whilst on their lunch break. I remember my friend who was a dancer on the ship was so burnt he couldn’t wear his outfit one evening in the show. I thought I wonder if they have heard of the ozone layer and they just don’t realize our sun exposure is more intense here in Australia compared to other parts of the world?

The moral of the story is even though the cooler months are here it is important to remember that every time we go outside, we are exposed to UV radiation. It is essential we get our regular dose of vitamin D for our health and wellbeing, but it is also important to protect our children from the harmful effects of UV all year round!

According to the Cancer Council skin cancer is almost entirely preventable so it is up to us to create good habits for our children to then do the same!

Written by Nicolle Sharkey Founder of Safe Start Australia.

I write:

From Research

From Experience

From the Heart

Where to now?

To attend our program either a public or private session please go to the dates and locations page and we hope to see you soon.

For any further injury prevention information for your infants and young children visit our website at www.safestartausteralia.com.au

References
  1. Whiteman et al. On behalf of the Sunscreen Summit Policy Group. When to apply sunscreen: a consensus statement for Australia and New Zealand. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 2019. VOL 43 NO 2
  2. TabbakhT, Volkov A, Wakefield M, Dobbinson S (2019) Implementation of the SunSmartprogram and population sun protection behaviourin Melbourne, Australia: Results from cross-sectional summer surveys from 1987 to 2017. PLoS Med 16(10): e1002932.https://doi. org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1002932
  3. The Cancer Council Position statement – Sun protection and infants (0-12 months). https://www.cancer.org.au/
  4. Winslade et al. Australian primary school communities’ understandings of SunSmart: a qualitative study. School children and adolescents. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 2017 vol. 41 no. 5
  5. The Bureau of Meteorology http://www.bom.gov.au/
  6. The Cancer Council https://www.cancer.org.au/