With the summer holidays approaching and - hopefully - some sunny days to look forward to, it's time to talk sun, sea and sunscreen.
Recent research has discovered that 49 per cent of parents don't know how to apply sunscreen and 46 per cent don't apply enough. This is understandable when you think about how hard it actually is to get sun cream onto a wriggly toddler, but apparently - despite our exasperating efforts - we're doing it wrong anyway.
According to the research from Disney Junior, more than two in five parents in Britain think sunburn is related to temperature, with almost a third saying they rarely put sunscreen on their kids while in the UK. A further 57 per cent do not apply protection when it's cloudy, despite the fact sunburn can occur even on cloudy days. So is it time for a refresher course in how the sun works?
Firstly, sun damage doesn't only occur when the weather is hot. As Emma Shields, Health Information Manager at Cancer Research UK, explains, "The temperature we feel from the sun is caused by infrared rays, but it's the UV ones that cause damage. These rays are always strongest when the sun's highest in the sky (11am - 3pm). The UK sun can be strong enough to burn in the UK from the start of April to the end of September, even if it doesn’t feel that warm, so it's best to check the UV Index when checking the weather. If it's over 3, the risk of sunburn starts to increase, with 3-5 being moderate and 6+ becoming high risk whereby everyone needs protection." In short, you might feel more likely to get sunburnt at 5pm on a blazing hot day but the fact is that more damage could be done at 1pm on a cloudy day in May.
Secondly, there are two types of these damaging UV rays - UVA and UVB. UVA refers to the rays that age us and do the long-term damage in our basal skin cells, UVB refers to those that burn us. When we're looking at sun care products, UVA protection is given as a five-star rating and UVB is represented by the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) - the higher you go with both, the more protection you'll get. Some sunscreens are labelled as 'broad spectrum', which means they protect against both types of UV, too. As a side note, if your product just says 'UVA' inside a circle (the minimum EU requirement), has a low UVA star rating or isn't labelled as broad spectrum, ditch it because it won't be good enough.
• Apply liberally. "We recommend at least two teaspoons for the head and neck area and two tablespoons for the body. But you can’t apply too much, so use it liberally," says Dr Jennifer Crawley, Childs Farm's consultant dermatologist.
• Apply at least every two hours - even if the product is labelled as 'once a day'. "Once a day is never enough," says Emma. "It's easy to miss bits, it washes off, rubs off and sweats off so always reapply - no matter what it says on the bottle." If your kid needs convincing that it's time to slather on more sun cream, try the new special edition sun-activated UV stickers from the SunburnAlert company. They feature the Disney character Vampirina and her ghost friend Demi, and the patented colour-changing technology will see the sticker change from white to blue when it’s time to reapply sunscreen. (Free packs of stickers are available in selected airports, motorway service areas, supermarkets and shopping centres across UK.)
• Nivea Sun and Cancer Research UK are pushing the 1-2-3 approach: 1 - Seek shade, 2 - Cover up with clothing, 3 -
• Keep babies under 6-months-old out of direct sunlight completely as their skin is so delicate.
• If your kid is a moving target, try a roll-on product (I've tried and like Childs Farm's SPF 50+ Roll On Sun Lotion, £9.99, and Nivea Sun's Kids Sun Cream Roll On Extra Water Resistant SPF50 50ml, £4.50). Alternatively, try turning the process into a game with these tips from the British Association of Dermatologists:
- Try writing a word as you squeeze the sunscreen onto their skin, maybe one letter on each limb, torso etc.
- Ask them to guess what picture you are drawing (a flower or smiley face) as you squeeze it on, and then tell them they can help 'rub it out' (i.e. spread it onto the skin)
- Do a 'join the dots' with the sunscreen, letting them spread the cream from one dot to the next.
- Apply it in splodges and let them pretend they are turning into a cheetah, giraffe or other spotty animal.
Harry Judd, McFly drummer, Strictly winner, dad-of-two and now a Nivea Sun ambassador, knows this particular struggle is real. "I took my kids out the other day and it was hot but I couldn't face putting all that sun cream on," he told me. "I was like. 'sorry mate but you're wearing trousers and socks.' They were running around sweating. But don't get me wrong, they weren't wearing fleeces or anything..."
Although it's annoying to do this every morning - when we're in a rush and the kids are fighting it - it's so important to protect them. Skin cancers take a long time to occur and they develop because of an accumulation of UV damage over a number of years, making it essential to protect skin from an early age. “Any sunburn on children’s skin is especially worrying, because young skin is much thinner than an adult’s, making it far more susceptible to damage," says Dr Crawley. "Sunburn in childhood dramatically increases the chance of skin cancer in later life; it really is imperative that parents take the right steps to protect their little ones when they are outdoors.”