Children, Sunscreen, and Vitamin D – Advice for parents
Skin cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in the UK and the vast majority of these develop as a result of sun exposure. Five or more sunburns in youth can increase the lifetime risk of developing melanoma by 80%. With the summer on its way, learn how to protect your child’s skin from the negative effects of ultraviolet radiation.
Q: What sunscreen should I use?
Dermatologists recommend the use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen that contains UVA and UVB protection. A minimum of SPF 30 is ideal and should be applied at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. Sunscreen should be re-applied every 2 hours or after swimming and excessive sweating.
Q: When should I use sunscreen?
Sunscreen should be used on a daily basis if you are going to be outdoors. Be mindful that even on cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s harmful rays have the ability to penetrate skin. Sand and water reflect sunshine and increase the need for sunscreen.
Q: Is sunscreen safe for babies?
Children below the age of 6 months should be kept out of the sun, as their skin is too sensitive for the use of sunscreens. Young skin contains less pigment, or melanin, and is particularly vulnerable to the deleterious effects of sunlight.
Babies should be protected from the sun by lightweight clothing that covers the arms and legs, and a hat to shield the face, ears, and neck. Try and limit walks outdoors to before 10am and after 4pm; use a pram with a canopy or sun cover. Window film or mesh to minimize UV radiation can be placed in car windows.
After the age of 6 months, it is safe to use sunscreens.
Q: What other measures should I take to protect my child?
Sunscreens are only part of the defense against ultraviolet radiation. In older children, protective measures such as seeking shade, protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses should still be employed.
Q: Doesn’t my child need some sun to produce vitamin D?
Vitamin D is necessary for bone health and low levels have been linked to rickets in children. Whilst sun exposure is the main source of vitamin D, this needs to be carefully balanced against the fact that it is also the leading cause of skin cancer.
The time to make vitamin D in the skin is less than the time it takes for skin to become red and burn. Current recommendations suggest that daily casual exposure to sunshine (e.g. a few minutes a day without sunscreen) should produce sufficient vitamin D levels. The skin should not, however, be allowed to redden or burn.
Babies and children are extremely sensitive to the effects of sunlight and it is important that their skin is not allowed to burn. Practising and forming good sun safety habits from childhood may prevent long-term damage to the skin in the future.