School is out and the sun is shining. As we head into the long December school holidays – and longer days trying to keep kids entertained – our little people are likely to be spending a lot of time outdoors. Getting kids out and about and away from screens has so many benefits, but in a country with one of the highest ultraviolet (UV) levels in the world, we must ensure we take the necessary precautions to protect their skin from sun damage.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer globally and is mostly found in adults, but much of the damage is done in our younger years. In 2020, 2.5% of Sanlam’s severe illness claims were for skin cancer, which included melanomas, basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas – all different forms of skin cancers.
Dr Yusrah Parker, Medical Advisor at Sanlam Individual Life and a mom, explains that instilling sun savvy habits and a good skincare routine in your kids from a young age makes all the difference and significantly reduces their risk of being diagnosed with skin cancer later. She also cautions that UV rays are present throughout the year for all seasons even when it is cloudy.
Here, Dr Parker shares her top five tips for parents to protect their children’s skin from harmful UV rays and reduce their risk of skin cancer:
Regardless of age and skin tone, it is essential to apply a sunblock to babies and children with an SPF of 30 or more, not forgetting the hands, feet, lips, neck, and ears. Choose one that is broad-spectrum to protect against UVA and UVB rays and, if your children are swimming, make sure it is water-resistant. Apply generous amounts and don’t forget to re-apply throughout the day, at least every 2 hours.
Dr Parker also notes that creams are much better than sprays as it is hard to know if you have applied enough when you spray the sunscreen on.
Avoid the peak times of the day
The sun’s strongest rays are between 10am and 4pm so try to stay in the shade during this time. Sun exposure happens during day-to-day activities, not just when you’re on the beach, and UV rays are still present even on cloudy days so it’s best to make sunblock part of your routine.
Wear a hat
Choose a hat with a broad rim that shades your child’s face, ears, and neck. Choose dark, tightly-woven fabrics such as canvas and avoid straw hats with holes that allow sunlight through.
Wearing protective clothing that covers the body – and ideally has UV filters – is one of the best ways to protect the skin from harmful UV rays. Use umbrellas or pop-up tents to provide shade when outdoors.
Dr Parker cautions that one’s eyes can also be harmed by sun exposure damaging one’s cornea, which can eventually lead to the development of cataracts. If age appropriate, find your child a pair of sunglasses with UV protection to help protect their eyes from harsh UV rays.
As parents and caregivers, practicing good skincare routines early in our children’s lives will have a direct impact on their health in the future. “The power is quite literally in our hands to ensure the protection of our future generations against skin cancer,” concludes Dr Parker.