A WHO factsheet estimates that up to 80 per cent of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV occurs before the age of 18. Blame it on our great Australian sunshine or lifestyle, but we do have one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world.
The good news is, skin cancer and other forms of UV damage such as wrinkles, eye damage and a weakened immune system can be largely prevented by following good sun safety practices. If we can teach our children to protect themselves from a young age, they will be able to protect themselves in the future. Here are 6 ways to teach your child to be sun smart.
CHOOSE SUN-PROTECTIVE CLOTHING
When the heat is up, the first thing you may want to do is throw on the lightest tank top you can find. But think for a moment if you or your child will be exposed to high UV levels. Maybe it would be better to put on a long-sleeved cotton shirt, or a light UV-protective jacket.
Better yet, have this discussion with your child so they can learn to make their own decisions. You could say, “It’s going to be a hot day today, what do you think you should wear? Do you think that top will protect you from the sun? What can you wear that will make you feel comfortable?”
The idea is to get them to be sun smart without you having to remind them. In the meantime, you may have to nudge them towards a sensible shoulder-covering t-shirt versus a spaghetti-strap top.
ALWAYS SWIM WITH A RASHIE
The UV levels in Australia are generally very high so it’s important for children to be properly protected. Make sure the kids get into a habit of wearing a rashie or long sleeve swimwear whether they’re swimming or playing on the beach.
Choosing a kids rashie or toddler swimwear with UPF 50+ will offer your child the best available protection. The standard sun protection for kids swimwear is UPF 30+ but UPF 50+ means your child will get the maximum protection possible. If you want to get technical, UPF 50+ means that only 1/50th or 2% of the UV radiation is able to penetrate the fabric.
You can tell if a kids rashie or swim shirt is of good quality by looking at the fabric. You want a tightly woven fabric that doesn’t let the sunlight through. If you hold it up to the sun, you shouldn’t be able to see much through it. An old and stretched rashie would have lost its sun protective capabilities. So if your rashie is looking a little tired, don’t hesitate to replace it.
GET INTO A HAT HABIT
Baseball caps may look cool when you’re rocking a hip hop look but if you’re going outdoors, you want a hat or cap that covers your face and neck. Don’t worry, lots of boys and girls sun hats as well as toddler swim hats, come in great designs kids love.
Choose either a broad-brimmed hat or a legionnaire hat. A legionnaire hat offers the peak protection of a cap with the addition of flaps to protect the sensitive neck area. Legionnaire hats are popular amongst toddlers but you can get them for older kids too.
The most important thing is to teach children to grab their own hats before they head outside. You can set up a hat station in your home by hanging the hats on low hooks the children can reach. Have a ‘No hat, no play’ policy. You may have to remind them a hundred times before it works, but one day the children will be grabbing their hats without thinking and even you might forget to remind them.
The best protection from the sun is to stay out of it. That doesn’t mean you have to hide away in the house all day. You can still enjoy nature and the great outdoors but remember to have a sun safe area as your base.
Teach kids to look for shade whenever they can. For example, they could eat their lunch under the shade of a tree. They could read a book in the portable tent. Remember that some shaded areas may still be dangerous as light could reflect off the sand, snow or concrete. Wear sunglasses and choose shaded areas that have a non-reflective ground such as grass and tan bark.
SLOP ON THE SUNSCREEN
Putting sunscreen on is a good habit to have especially if you’re spending a prolonged time outdoors. Remember that sunscreen is not a substitute to wearing a hat or even SPF 50+ sun protective clothing.
There is no such thing as a 100% UV protective rashie, so even if you’re wearing a swim shirt, you should still put on sunscreen underneath.
Give your child their own sunscreen so they can be responsible for their own sun protection. There are many types of sunscreen options in the market. Roller sunscreens for example may be easier for toddlers to put on. If your child has sensitive skin, look for a mineral sunscreen which is less likely to be absorbed by the skin and cause irritation.
LOOK FOR UV LEVELS NOT SUNSHINE
In Australia, we pay attention to the UV levels, not to how sunny the day is. It is the UV or ultraviolet rays which damage the skin and UV levels can be high even if it looks cloudy.
Generally, the UV levels are high between 9am to 4pm each day but it depends on the time of the year and which part of Australia you’re in.
A good way to check the UV levels is to use the Cancer Council SunSmart app. A UV level of 3 and above is considered dangerous and children are recommended to stay indoors or use proper sun protection during this time.