The African sun is renowned for being harsh and when it comes to the safety and health of your kids, you should take no chances. However an important fact that you should be aware of regarding sun safety is: Sun in moderation is good for your child.
The sun is an important source of Vitamin D which is necessary for the absorption of calcium by the body. Your child only needs a very short time in the sun to absorb enough Vitamin D.
Apply sun block generously and often
The SPF or sun protection factor on a sun block is the amount of time that sun block is able to protect the skin. This means that an SPF 50+ is not more effective than an SPF 20+, it just lasts longer. It can be a bit confusing, so here is how you work out the time you have before the skin starts to burn:
SPF number multiplied by How long it normally takes your skin to burn without sun protection = How long you have until the skin burns with sun block.
Example: If your child’s skin would burn in 10 minutes without sun protection, and you applied an SPF 30, you would have 15 x 30 = 300 minutes (5 hours) before they would burn.
The SPF is also the amount of protection from UV rays, but it must be noted that not all the UV rays are prevented from coming through, no matter what SPF you use.
When purchasing a sun block or sun screen for kids, make sure you look for 3 things:
1) An SPF higher than 30.
2) A Board Spectrum, which means it protects the skin from UVA and UVB rays.
3) Waterproof or sweat proof.
Whenever your child goes outside make sure you apply sun block. It is recommended that you apply about 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure so that a good protective layer can form on the skin. If your child is swimming, reapply every hour, otherwise every 2 hours is good.
Make sure that you put on their ears, behind their ears and don’t forget their lips. The path of exposed skin on the head, burns very easily, so blob some sun block along this line as well. You can also use a SPF lip balm to protect the sensitive skin on the lips. A sun tan is still a form of over exposure to the sun, so it is still damaging their skin to get a tan.
Remember that dark-skinned children can also burn, although they do have a thicker layer of melanin protecting it, but you should still apply lots of sun block.
Also, remember that you are still exposed to the UV rays and can still burn even if it is overcast and cloudy.
- Ensure your child wears a sun hat
If your child is playing outside, make sure that in addition to sun block, that they also wear a sun hat. A peak cap is not ideal, because it only covers the face and not the back of the neck. A wide brimmed sun hat is the best thing to purchase (you can get boys ones too) so that their heads, necks and faces are out of the sun.
- Wearing protective clothing and swimming gear is important
Nowadays most shops sell swimming costumes for kids that have a built in UVA and UVB protection. These are great to get for going to the beach and just swimming at home. It offers some extra protection. Some clothing labels are also sold with a built-in UV filter, but to take precautions, rather put sun screen on under their clothes when they are going to play outside.
- No sun between 11am and 3pm
The sun is the strongest between 11 am and 3 pm, so make sure that you keep your child out of the sun during this period. Let them play outside in the morning and then keep them out of the sun in the shade or indoors until after 3pm.
These are the main rules to follow when your child is exposed to the sun, and hopefully by protecting them as much as possible, you can highly reduce the risk of them developing skin cancer, cataracts, and problems with their immune system.