Coming from Australia, the catchphrase “slip, slop and slap!” has been drilled into me from as early as I can remember. Staying sun safe has always been a focal point Down Under.
We all need some sun exposure; it’s the top source of Vitamin D, which helps our bodies absorb calcium for stronger, healthier bones, among numerous other benefits. But it doesn’t take much time in the sun for most children to get the Vitamin D they need. And repeated unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause skin damage, eye damage, immune system suppression, and ultimately skin cancer.
The sun radiates light to the earth, and part of that light consists of invisible UV rays. When these rays reach the skin, they cause burning and other skin damage. Sunlight contains three types of ultraviolet rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC.
UVA, UVB & UVC rays
UVA rays cause skin ageing and wrinkling and contribute to skin cancer, such as melanoma. Because UVA rays pass effortlessly through the ozone layer (the protective layer of atmosphere, or shield, surrounding the earth), they make up the majority of our sun exposure. UVB rays are also dangerous, causing sunburns, cataracts and affect the immune system. Melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, is thought to be associated with severe UVB sunburns that occur before the age of 20. UVC rays are the most dangerous, but, fortunately, these rays are blocked by the ozone layer and don’t reach the earth, as long as the ozone layer is there of course!
Keep your children safe
Instilling good sun protection in your children from an early age is paramount to protecting skin for a lifetime. The Skin Cancer Foundation Australia estimates that 80% of lifetime sun exposure (and damage) occurs during childhood and just one blistering sunburn can double the risk of getting melanoma later in life. During June, Doha’s cloud coverage is at its lowest, resulting in the strongest sunlight (although you can still get burnt under cloud cover). July is also the period for the earliest sunrises and the latest sunsets, hence this is when there is the most potential for maximum sunlight exposure.
It is important to avoid unnecessary exposure when the sun’s rays are at their strongest. Even on cloudy or cooler days, ultraviolet (UV) rays remain strong. Shady spots can be just as tricky because of reflected light. If your child is playing outdoors during these hours, make sure to apply sufficient sunscreen and clothing, including a hat.
Applying correct sunscreen properly
Generously apply sunscreen 30 minutes before your child goes out in the sun. Choose a sunscreen with SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 30+ or higher. Colourful sunscreens appeal to kids and make it easier to see which areas have been covered well. Don’t forget the nose, ears, hands, feet, shoulders, and behind the neck. Lips can also burn, so apply a lip balm with SPF protection. Reapply sunscreen every two-to-three hours, or after sweating or swimming.
When first using a child’s sunscreen, always do a skin patch test before applying all over to make sure there is no negative reaction. Also, even if children are not going swimming, a water resistant or waterproof sunscreen is preferred as they last longer.
Wearing protective clothing including hats is one of the most important ways of preventing UV damage. Light coloured clothing can let in just as much sunlight as bare skin so keep your kids covered with dark colours, long sleeves and trousers whenever possible. And don’t forget to use sunglasses with UV protection to guard against burned corneas. Try to keep a baby younger than six months out of the sunlight altogether but if outside, protective clothing, hats with brims and sunglasses are just as important for babies. Furthermore, some medications increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so make sure to ask your doctor whether your child may be at risk. Prescription antibiotics and acne medications are the most notorious culprits.
Set a good example
If your child sees you following sun-safety rules, they’ll follow suit. Skin protection is important for every member of the family, so team up with your children to stay protected when venturing out in the sun.
Always taking the right precautions can greatly reduce you and your child’s chances of experiencing sun damage and from potentially developing a serious disease such as skin cancer in later life.
As we Australians say…. don’t forget to “Slip Slop & Slap!” and use common sense this summer.
Recommended sun protection brands include Banana Boat sunscreen, Mustela High Protection Sun Lotion, Episencial Sunny Sunscreen, Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids, Dr Robin Sunscreen for Children, Kiss My Face Sport Clear Spray Spritz, Le bebe Coo SPF wipes, Sunbow Sunscreen and Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Mineral Block Face Stick. Available online or in selected stores.