Almost four out of 10 parents mistakenly believe that a sun tan is a sign of good health, research suggests.
A new poll for the Met Office and the NHS England #CoverUpMate skin cancer campaign found evidence of apparently relaxed attitudes to children and sun exposure.
The poll of 1,001 parents of children up to the age of 16 found 34% think a sun tan helps build resistance to the sun while 37% think a sun tan is a sign of good health, such as offering a “healthy glow”.
Some 70% said they think it is normal to get a tan in summer, however 56% knew that sun tans are a symptom of sun damage and are best avoided.
One in 20 parents said they have allowed their children to use sunbeds, including the parents of very young children, while 7% have encouraged their child to use a lower factor suncream to get a nice tan.
One in 10 parents have also suggested their child takes their top off to avoid tan lines.
Listing all the points at which they apply suncream or a sun hat, 56% of parents said on any summer day when their child will be outside, 59% said on hot days and 21% said when their child turns pink.
A fifth apply sun cream when their child says they need it, and 39% said they do so whenever the family is abroad.
Some 1% said they never put a sun hat or sun cream on their child, rising to 7% of those who said they never used suncream on their child.
Meanwhile, 17% of parents with children under the age of 11 said their youngsters have experienced painful sunburn four or more times in the past two years.
Some 4% of parents said their child has been sunburned so severely they had to be admitted to hospital.
Clare Nasir, Met Office presenter and meteorologist, said: “As a sun-savvy mum, the findings are really worrying.
“Protecting against skin cancer isn’t something parents should leave to chance.
“UV levels are usually highest between May and September. Clouds don’t always stop UV rays, and unlike the sun’s warmth, it’s difficult to know when they may be harming you.
“You can protect yourself and your family by checking the UV forecast on the Met Office app.”
Nigel Acheson, NHS England South region medical director, said: “It’s important that parents take extra care to protect their babies and children.
“Their skin is much more sensitive than adult skin, and damage caused by repeated exposure to UV could lead to skin cancer developing in later life.
“If the Met Office UV forecast is moderate or high, children aged under six months should spend time in the shade and out of direct sunlight – particularly from 11am to 3pm.
“We should all remember to cover up with suitable clothing and wear sunscreen with a good UVA protection.”