It sounds simple enough, but often sun protection is more complicated than it appears. For starters, SPF50 (which blocks 98 per cent of the sun’s rays) isn’t necessarily the best coverage for kids, as Dr Juliane Reuter, UAE-based dermatologist, explains: ‘To achieve higher SPF than 30, chemical filters need to be added, which can be irritable for sensitive or eczematous skin. Also, by almost completely blocking out the sunlight, it can interfere with vitamin D production, which is necessary for children.’
Dr Reuter instead recommends SPF30 (which blocks out 96 per cent of rays) in combination with the right sun protective clothing. ‘Make sure you choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and that you apply at least half a teaspoon of cream on the face and neck alone, spreading this on 15-30 minutes before heading outside,’ she says.
‘It’s also important to ensure that all exposed parts of the body are generously covered in cream, and especially the face, lips, ears (behind and on top), behind the neck and the oft-missed back of the hands.’
However, Dr Reuter warns against using sunscreen on babies (below 12 months). ‘Babies absorb more of the chemicals, and because they’re not yet able to sweat sufficiently in order to cool down their body temperature, the sunscreen will serve only to aggravate sweating, adversely affecting their skin. It’s best to keep babies out of the sun whenever possible,’ she says.
Of course, here in the Middle East, that can be pretty tricky, so choosing the correct protective clothing is essential. ‘All kids should wear a hat with a flat flap around the neck to protect the face and neck, and it’s best to dress them in dark clothing,’ Dr Reuter says. ‘Light clothing lets in UV rays, with some 10 to 20 per cent of rays reaching a child’s skin directly when wearing a light-coloured cotton t-shirt,’ she explains, recommending all-over cream use when wearing light clothing.
And for those who think sticking your sprog in a t-shirt to use the pool is protection enough, Dr Reuter warns that wet clothes actually let in 50 per cent or more UV rays. ‘When kids are in and out of the water, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours and/or after a child has been sweating or swimming,’ she says.
Children’s eyes also need proper protection. ‘Not all sunglasses provide the same level of UV protection. Darkened plastic or glass lenses without special UV filters just trick the eyes into a false sense of safety, so you should opt for a pair that say they ‘block out 99 per cent or 100 per cent of UVA and UVB’ or ‘provide UV absorption up to 400mm’,’ she says.
If, after all of this protection, your child does ever experience sunburn (usually characterised by a skin rash, sensation of heat, and the skin feeling tight and itchy), Dr Reuter advises keeping your child out of the sun completely and gently applying cool, wet compresses, pure aloe vera gel or Calamine lotion to help alleviate itchiness, pain and heat of the skin. If blisters occur, parents should contact their doctor.