Sun Protection For Children
We don’t want to forget the importance of sun protection for children. We’ve spent many 8-hour days on the water and at the beach on very sunny days. The risk of sun burn is no joke, given that you’ve got the sun blasting from the sky, magnified by the reflective properties of a sailboat’s deck, sand, or water. Imagine what it’s like for our little ones, whose skin is thinner and more delicate than adult skin.
On the other hand, imagine what it’s like for children who only want to play in the sand or swim all day. Any adult who has taken a child to a sunny beach or outdoor pool knows how difficult it is to keep them away from the action, and to get them to reapply sun cream.
Why should we even worry?
Sun protection for children is something we take seriously. While a holiday sunburn can be considered a childhood rite of passage, it should be taken seriously and avoided. Studies consistently show that there is relationship between getting sun burnt as a child and the development of skin cancer when they are older.
Is it so bad? It can be.
Humans are equipped to deal with some UV (ultraviolet) radiation damage, but to a limited extent. Melanin, the chemical responsible for pigmentation in human hair, skin, and eyes, provides protection against skin damage from sun exposure. Infants, and their literal thin skin are still developing their melanin levels—they don’t produce enough melanin to protect the skin from UV radiation until they’re about 5 years old.
The sun emits UV radiation which, during excessive exposure, causes sunburn, eye-damage, skin ageing, melanoma, and other skin cancers. Two types of UV rays penetrate the earth’s atmosphere. UVA rays can cause havoc in the deep layers of the skin. They break down cell structures, causing lines and wrinkles, pigmentation such as sun spots, and melanoma. UVB rays, which damage the surface layers of the skin, are responsible for the common sunburn. The latter is a significant risk factor linked to developing skin cancers, particularly a dangerous form called melanoma. Excessive exposure to UV radiation may take on the guise of a lovely, healthy-looking tan, but the fact that your skin has darkened indicates damage caused by the sun.
Do we avoid the sun altogether then?
What, and miss out on all the fun? Heck no! Sun protection for children doesn’t mean zero sun exposure. Exposure to sunlight is beneficial to humans, and a total avoidance would lead to problems. UV radiation affects endorphin levels, giving the term “sunny disposition” a literal meaning. Reduced exposure to sunlight is linked to seasonal affective disorder (aka SAD) which occurs during the dark autumn and winter months. During sun exposure, our skin makes vitamin D and aids in the creation of stronger bones through the absorption of calcium. Zero sun exposure results in bone damage and bone softening disease. Not very nice.
What to do, what to do…
Being concerned about sun protection for children shouldn’t mean we’ll stay indoors forever. Generally, we’re discouraged from excessive sun exposure between 11am and 3pm. This is the time when the risk of exposure to UV radiation is highest, with the sun high overhead, encouraging a nearly direct hit of UV radiation. Some places extend this window to between 10am and 4pm. The times before and after these windows are considered safer, because the UV rays need to pass through more atmosphere and are reduced before hitting earth. You can tell the difference yourself—the light during early mornings and late afternoons is softer, more diffused. It is certainly less hot and stings less compared to standing in the noonday sun.
What other factors come into play?
When planning trips and days out, other factors to consider are:
- Altitude: higher places = cleaner air = thinner atmosphere = higher UV radiation
- Geographic Location: closer to the equator = more direct UV hit
- Season: summer = sun is higher in the sky = less atmosphere to reduce UV penetration
- Cloud Cover: thick clouds protect more than thin, scattered clouds
- Reflection: snow can be as bad as direct sun exposure; sea foam, light sand, and even white boat decks all reflect UV rays back up towards you
What you can do.
Here are some useful reminders when getting blasted by UV rays is on your schedule. Sun safety should always be a priority.
- Have you put your protective clothing on? A loose-fitting rash guard and shorts or leggings with a UPF50+ rating means all the skin covered by the fabric is protected from harmful UV rays. In our experience, all areas protected by our rash guards and leggings get zero burn. This is especially significant for areas that are easy to forget about, such as the nape (back of the neck) and shoulders, and the backs of legs.
- Have you slathered on some high SPF sun block? We’re talking about the bits that are not covered by the UPF50+ garment. Important areas are the tops of ears, your nose, and the tops of your feet. When you slap on the goop is also important, so follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the bottle. Remember how much time you need between putting the sun block on and actual sun exposure. Don’t forget to reapply.
- What time is it? Remember to avoid sun exposure between 10am and 4pm, or 11am and 3pm. And don’t be fooled by cloud cover—the burn you get could be just as nasty when a cloudy day fools you into thinking that UV rays are absent.
- Are you being a good example? Little people imitate their adults, so there’s no point imposing protective clothing & sun block, and limiting sun exposure, when you’re the first to flout your rules.
Now that you’ve covered the basics on sun protection for children, you can enjoy a sun-safe break!