The sun is good for kids, in small doses, and keeping skin safe from over-exposure and potential skin damage is second nature to parents. But even the most cautious can get caught out. Here are eight brilliantly simple ways to protect you and your family’s skin from sun risk – even when it’s overcast.
There are two types of ultraviolet rays in sunlight, and both are harmful. UVA rays are present at all times in daylight hours. They’re the ones that tan, but they also penetrate deep into the skin’s dermis, and pretty much stop at nothing, including glass and cloud cover. UVB rays are shorter wave, don’t go as deep, and are at their strongest from 10am to 4pm in summer.
Unlike UVA, their strength is seasonal and has geographical variations. UVB rays are most likely to burn skin. Obviously sunburn feels awful, but there’s a also a high risk of permanent skin damage from over-exposure to either UVA and UVB rays.
It’s a given that zero SPF is what to apply if you want to tan in the truest sense; like leather. Most sane sunbathers prefer to avoid that risk, and use at least SPF15. But, that’s when definitions get a little less clear.
The higher a product’s SPF, the greater its ability to deflect UV rays, and the rating is based on a direct comparison between protected and unprotected skin: it takes 15 times longer for skin to burn wearing SPF15 than wearing zero.
But for kids you also have to factor in brand variations, child’s age, time of day, skin type, whether you’re inland or by the sea. That’s a lot of work for an afternoon on the beach, so err on the safe side and always go for SPF30 to 50 on young skin.
That isn’t stating the obvious, it’s debunking the myth that sunscreen should be thoroughly rubbed into skin. Sun care products are designed to create a ‘screen’ or layer of protection, and the sooner they’re absorbed, the quicker they become ineffective.
Because being coated in shiny, white gloop isn’t a good look or very practical, apply ordinary sunscreen lightly and often for adults, and use sunscreen sprays to protect kids. They’re designed to mist the skin surface, dry without evaporating, and leave a protective layer. Naturally the rules are the same about high SPF, whatever the means of application.
In summer the sun’s UVB rays are strongest between 10am and 4pm. That’s a guideline; depending on where you are in the world, the sun can be just as powerful in the early morning as it is at midday in the UK. Pay attention to cloud cover too, particularly in the southern hemisphere.
On an overcast August afternoon in The Maldives, when there’s no sun in sight, but temperatures are hitting 30˚ and over, you can easily burn, and badly.Avoidance is the obvious tactic, but awareness can work just as well. If you feel warm, kids are probably too hot, and it’s time to get out of the sun.
Clothing marked with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) must by law contain UVB and UVA protection, and the same applies to sunscreen which is labelled, ‘broad spectrum’.
Waterproof sunscreen is a good idea too, but be careful. No amount of waterproofing thoroughly protects kids if they’re constantly in and out of the pool, so remember to reapply frequently.
The feel of sun on skin is lovely, but it feels just as warm and comforting through a layer of clothing for kids. For most good weather in the UK, oversize white tees are easy cover ups for younger children. In sunnier countries, if under sixes are in and out of the sea or pool, it’s worth investing in rash suits with built-in UVB and UVA protection (normally UPF40 and above in UK).
Sun hats are essential, and ones with neck covering work best for babies and toddlers.
According to recent figures, over 10,000 tons of UV filtering sun care products are produced annually. When we swim in the sea, about 30% of the sunscreen on our skin washes off in the water, the majority of that is ingested, in one form or another, by marine life.
Buying chemical-free can radically reduce your levels of personal pollution. Several UK companies now produce marine-friendly, organic sun care ranges especially for kids with high SPF, and vegan certification. They contain no added chemicals or fragrance, so not only are they kind to the environment, they’re a good choice for sensitive skin and help avoid allergic reactions.
Even when you’re careful to the point of paranoia about protection, kids can still suffer the effects of too much sun. It isn’t always apparent, and younger children in particular often don’t display any obvious symptoms.
Most cases of over-exposure are minor, and only result in irritability and sleeplessness. But taking the heat out of skin with after-sun will help avoid even those small reactions.
Again, use scent-free organic brands where possible to minimise potential reactions, and apply automatically after you come out of the sun. As well as cooling and soothing skin, after-sun can also help reduce the risk of slight redness developing into full-blown sunburn and causing permanent skin damage.