The Blog

Doctor's Notes: Keeping Kids Healthy in the Sun

We all enjoy a sunny day or a good summer holiday but the sun's rays can be very damaging and children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of the sun.

We all enjoy a sunny day or a good summer holiday but the sun's rays can be very damaging and children are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of the sun.

The sun's rays contain two types of ultraviolet light - UVA, and UVB. These are the rays that cause sunburn. Just one episode of sunburn as a child doubles their risk of skin cancer later in life - this really is an important issue.

It can be difficult to judge the strength of the sun, but UV index helps and is shown in a triangle on the weather forecast. Between October and March in the UK the index is rarely over 3 but in the height of summer it can reach 7, and your children will certainly need protecting. On hot days in the UK and abroad, you should keep out of the sun when it is at its strongest between 11am and 3pm. If in doubt, look at your shadow - if it's shorter than you, the sun is strong enough to cause damage in a very short space of time so keep your kids in the shade.

When it comes to kids, I believe the stronger the sun protection factor the better, and you certainly shouldn't be using anything less than SPF30. SPF simply gives you an idea of how long you should be able to stay in the sun. So if you would normally burn after 10 minutes in strong sun, an SPF30 should mean you can stay out for 30 times as long (300 minutes) but don't push this to the limit. I reapply sunscreen to my kids every couple of hours in hot weather. There are some excellent sprays available now or you can decant creams into an old deodorant roll on bottle to make application easier. Be careful about sunscreens that claim to be waterproof. Kids will happily spend hours running in and out of the swimming pool or sea in which case they may need topping up every half hour or so.

Left to their own devices, children will spend all day swimming or hunched over sand castles making them particularly prone to sunburn on the back of their necks. Insist that they wear a wide brimmed hat at all times and T-shirts to cover their shoulders. The hat will also reduce the sun exposure to the face by as much as 50%. Wet T-shirts offer less protection than dry ones as they allow more rays through so take a couple of spares with you and change regularly. There are also some excellent UV resistant clothing ranges available now.

When buying sunglasses for your kids, remember that, like many things in life, you get what you pay for. Children have a nasty habit of losing sunglasses but it really is worth investing in good quality glasses with guaranteed 100% UV protection. Just because glasses have dark lenses doesn't mean they will work. In fact, if they don't have proper UV protection, cheap sunglasses could do more harm by allowing the pupil to dilate in bright sunshine and exposing the retina to more rays. Look for the "CE Mark" or a British Standard number or UV 400 label.

Prevention is better than cure and by following the above tips, you will hopefully avoid sunburn in you and your family but if you have been caught unawares, keep your child out of the sun, give them plenty of cold fluids to drink, put them in a tepid bath or shower and remove any excess clothing. Calomine lotion may also help soothe the skin.