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Posted by on Apr 27, 2013 in Parenting | 3 comments

How Sun Sensible are you and your kids?

It’s not often that I publish a press release almost verbatim but when Sun Sense sent me the details of their new campaign to ensure that parents understand the importance of protecting their children from sunburn it hit a nerve. 

Just this week Curly Girl came home from preschool with sunburn on the back of her neck. We’d been caught out by the sudden hot weather like I’m sure a lot of other parents were and I felt just awful about it. I was surprised that UK deaths from this type of cancer have overtaken Australia, so anything we can do to promote better sun protection awareness is worth supporting in my book. 

My big concern is that the campaign (see below) advocates reapplying sun cream every two hours but at Curly Girl’s preschool teachers are not allowed to apply sun cream to children without the explicit consent of the child’s parents – and I only found this out by asking them to do it. How many other parents don’t realise that they need to specifically say ‘I give you permission’ before the teachers can go ahead and protect their child? Will your children’s teachers keep them sun safe?

Millions of children in the UK are at risk of life threatening sun damage as more than half of parents don’t think they need sun protection if it’s not hot.

A total of 57% of parents surveyed by SunSense, Australia’s number one sunscreen, said they only ever apply sunscreen to their children if it’s a hot day. A further 32% said they didn’t think sun protection was necessary in this country at all as there isn’t enough sunny weather.

Parents also admitted they still don’t understand Sun Protection Factor (SPF) labelling, with many thinking that the higher the SPF rating the longer they can stay in the sun and the less often they need to reapply.

Celebrity doctor Dr Chris Steele says these misconceptions are cause for concern, himself having suffered four skin cancers as a result of over exposure to the sun.

The health professional explained: “What is worrying about these findings is that the majority of sun damage occurs before the age of 21 so it is absolutely vital that parents understand how to protect their children.

“Suffering sun burn as a child or teenager greatly increases the risk of skin cancer in later years. The most common misconception believed by many parents is that they don’t need to apply sunscreen on cloudy days. The reality is that cloudy days can often bring more risk as children will stay out longer when the sun isn’t as hot, meaning the damage caused can be more intense.”

Vitamin D was another area of confusion for many parents, with 38% of parents admitting they don’t apply sunscreen regularly because they want their child to get enough vitamin D. The British Dermatological Nursing Group (BDNG) and the School and Public Health Nurses Association (SAPHNA) recommend a diet rich in vitamin D as a more effective and safer alternative than putting children at risk of skin cancers by not using a sunscreen.

Susan Maguire, operations manager at the British Dermatological Nursing Group (BDNG), said: “There is no standard definition of how much vitamin D we need, but our best estimate is that every day casual exposure to sunlight is enough to produce vitamin D. Dietary sources and supplements are a safer option than the sun for maintaining sufficient levels.”

SunSense carried out the research into sun protection awareness after it was reported that 41% of parents revealed that their children have got sunburnt while at school.

Rebecca Wakefield, mum of two from Cheshire, said: “My children are both very fair skinned so it’s always a worry in summer when we send them off to school knowing they will be playing outdoors. We always try our best to lather on the sunscreen before school but there have been occasions when it’s been cloudy and we haven’t thought they needed it and they have got sunburnt.”

To counteract the common sun myths and help to reduce the risk to children, SunSense is this week launching a UK-wide schools campaign to help educate parents and children on the facts about sun protection.

The Sun Sensible campaign will provide primary schools and nurseries with educational activity packs designed to teach them how to protect themselves, with important messages including:

  • Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outdoors.
  • The higher the SPF the better (the National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommends at least SPF 15).
  • Reapply every 2 hours. Remind children how to apply the cream.
  • Be careful to cover all exposed skin.
  • Cover up with clothing, hats and sunglasses.

The campaign launches with a competition for school pupils to design a T-shirt to promote sun safety messages. Schools that enter can win outdoor shade areas for pupils. Is your child’s school taking part?

SunSense Sun Protection Survey, February 2013; All-Party Parliamentary Group on Skin (APPGS) Survey commissioned by MPs, May 2011; SAPHNA; BDNG; Cancer Research UK.

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