Did you know that 2 in 3 Australians experience skin cancer before the age of 70? This means we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer worldwide! What makes this statistic even sadder is that skin cancer is actually preventable. Given that May is Skin Cancer Awareness month it seemed only appropriate to blog about the importance of sun protection for babies and toddlers.
Babies and toddlers are exceptionally vulnerable to the harmful effects of sun exposure. Their skin is thinner than adult skin, and is also less able to produce melanin, which is a pigment that helps to protect the skin. This makes their skin more sensitive and prone to damage from UV rays. Sunburn can actually occur in as little as ten minutes, and just one blistering sunburn during childhood doubles the risk for skin cancer in later life. We need to protect our little one's skin!
Below are some tips for protecting your baby or toddler's skin from the sun:
* Cover their skin: any type of clothing will provide an extra layer of protection against the sun. For best protection opt for UPF50+ full-coverage clothing or swimwear.
* Protect their face, neck and ears: Bucket hats or legionnaire hats are perfect for providing good sun protection and shading your little one's face, neck and ears. Wearing a hat also protects your child's eyes from the direct glare of the sun.
* Wear sunscreen (over 6 months of age): Most health practitioners advise that babies under 6 months of age should not have sunscreen applied to their skin. This is because their skin is highly absorptive, which makes it more susceptible to the harmful chemicals that are found in many sunscreens, such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octocrylene. Additionally, there is a higher risk of skin irritation/inflammation or allergic reaction. For older babies and toddlers, there are so many sunscreen brands around that differ in their SPF rating, as well as the ingredients used, so have a look around and find a brand that works for your family.
* Avoid the sun during peak hours if possible: Try to find natural shade, such as trees, or bring sunshades/umbrellas. If you cannot stay in the shade, make sure you follow the above tips! Also, there are many myths about sun exposure that make it hard to know the facts. One myth that many people believe is that you cannot get sunburnt on a windy or cloudy day. You absolutely can!
* Always check the UV index: If it is 3 or above, sun protection is vital rain hail or shine!
* Be mindful about reflective surfaces: Reflective surfaces, such as water, can actually increase the effects of the sun's rays.
Practising these tips from the beginning not only means that you are significantly reducing the chance of your little one ever experiencing skin cancer, but you are also teaching them the importance of sun safety for when they are too old to allow you to dress them or put sunscreen on their face!