Did you know that this week is sun awareness week? I’d like to highlight this important date in the calendar for those of us that are parents, grandparents or employed in the field of caring for children, for it is our responsibility to protect them. But what advice should we follow when it comes to being out in the sunlight?
These days it seems we are asked to send small children to school lathered in sunscreen* as soon as the sunshine makes an appearance. When it comes to being out in the sun, I completely understand that teachers couldn't possibly be responsible for covering a class of children for outdoor play – for goodness sake, by the time they were finished with the cream, break would be over!
But then we hear that the bone softening condition rickets is on the rise - due to a lack of vitamin D. And really this comes as no surprise when you consider vitamin D is found in very few foods**, but is made in the body when our skin is exposed to sunlight.
However, we are so paranoid at the prospect of sun burnt children, and at the staggering rate that melanomas are spreading, we follow the advice of applying sun cream 20-30 minutes prior to going outside. Understandably. Too much sun causes painful sunburn and can significantly increase the risk of developing skin cancer in later life.
A staggering 50% of total lifetime sunlight exposure occurs in childhood – although perhaps that shouldn’t come as such a surprise? Certainly, I know that the moment the weather is good, my two girls are outside enjoying playing in the garden or at the park, although I do always try to avoid the heat of the midday sun*** I also keep in mind that I want them to be exposed to make some Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, and we get most of ours from sunlight exposure. The best time to make vitamin D from sunlight is from March to October, especially from 11am to 3pm. So how do we ensure both ourselves and our children get enough without risking sun damage? And just what are the national guidelines for adults, children and babies?
According to the website, NHS.co.uk, ‘We need vitamin D to help the body absorb calcium and phosphorus from our diet. These minerals are important for healthy bones and teeth.
‘Most people can make enough vitamin D from being out in the sun daily for short periods with their forearms, hands or lower legs uncovered and without sunscreen from March to October, especially from 11am to 3pm. About 10 to 15 minutes is enough for most lighter-skinned people – and is less than the time it takes you to start going red or burn. Exposing yourself for longer is unlikely to provide any additional benefits.
‘People with darker skin will need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D.
‘How long it takes for your skin to go red or burn varies from person to person. Cancer Research UK has a useful tool where you can find out your skin type, to see when you might be at risk of burning.
‘If you plan to be out in the sun for long, cover up with suitable clothing, seeking shade and applying at least SPF15 sunscreen.’
Both my daughters are fair, burning easily. But all children burn easily, for they have such delicate skin. I encourage my two to play in the shade. When shade is hard to find, I make some by spreading a blanket over the rotary washing line. I'm also a massive fan of protective rash tops. Which is why I want to give the fabulous Angel's Face UPF50+protection suits a shout out here. It is not always easy to apply sun cream all over little tots that do not want to sit still. Or reapply for that matter. And that's just one reason why a sunsuit, or rash top is a brilliant buy.
When it comes to advice for children, those aged under six-months should be kept out of direct strong sunlight entirely. And then from March to October in the UK, children and infants over that age should cover up, spend time in the shade, wear sunscreen and then, to ensure they get enough vitamin D, under fives are actually advised to take vitamin D supplements - even if they do get out in the sun.
To sum up, keeping kids safe in the sun is vital. Protecting them from sun damage and the pain that sunburn brings, not to mention the risk of melanoma in later life, is our responsibility as parents and nannies/carers.
The advice appears to be that adults need a short amount of sun exposure before applying sunscreen, and that children, ought to be protected before going out in it at all.
* Sunscreen ought to have a sun protection factor of at least 30
** Vitamin D is found mainly in oily fish, but also meat and eggs. Vitamin D is also added to all infant formula milk, as well as some breakfast cereals, soya products, dairy products, powdered milks and fat spreads.
*** Midday sun is considered to be between 11am - 3pm, when the sun's rays are at their strongest
TOP TIPS TO PROTECTING CHILDREN IN THE SUN
1) Put a hat on them, preferably with a wide brim.
2) Wear good protective clothing such as a sun suit but also encourage your little ones to play in the shade where possible.
3) Remember to apply sunscreen where the suits do not cover, and make sure you have applied enough to protect your child's delicate skin.
4) For little ones, sunscreen should have a UPF of at least 30.
5) Reapply sunscreen every couple of hours when in the sun, especially when playing in water.
6) Be aware - the sun is at its strongest between 11am and 3pm.
For more advice visit
This post first appeared on the Eden Private Staff blog