We’re often asked by parents and grandparents what they can do to protect their children’s skin from the risks of skin cancer. Many parents, particularly if they’ve had a skin cancer scare themselves, might think that keeping their children inside, hiding from the sun is the answer.
But let’s face it, we live in a wonderful country with so many outdoor activities to be enjoyed. It would be a great shame to only ever look at it through the window, rather than experiencing living it first hand.
So we talked to our newest member of the NBSCC team, Dr Penny Yelf, about how she embraces outdoor play whilst protecting her young children.
When asked if prefers living a life indoors with her family – her answer is a resounding “no!” They all love to play on the beach, swim and go fishing. Rather she says it’s all about making protection part of what they do.
So here she shares some of her best tips for keeping kids skin sun-safe.
Start early. Both in life and BEFORE you leave/go outside
Penny’s best advice for looking after young kids is both to start early in life, so it’s a habit and from a day to day perspective, to start before you leave.
“When we go to the beach we see so many mums and dad trying to put sunscreen on a wet, sandy, wriggling child and that’s just hard work and not very effective either. Plus, sunscreen needs 20 minutes to start working, which means the child can get burnt in the interim.”
Instead Penny’s children wear their Cancer Council Zootsuits – a long-sleeved neck to ankle suit that they now think of as their swimmers. Then all that’s required is sunscreen on their hands, face (including ears) and feet before they head off.
At the beach/park/fishing spot
When Penny and her family arrive on the beach there are two more things required.
- A legionnaire’s cap on everyone’s head which protects their scalp, ears and neck
- A pop up tent (also from the Cancer Council) to provide them with some shade.
Protect yourself from sun protection myths
Any whilst the sun protection message is getting through and people are protecting themselves and their children whilst enjoying the great Aussie outdoors, sometimes people either misunderstand or buy into myths regarding sun safety.
It pays to cover up – yes it does, but only if it’s in the right thing.
One of the things Dr Penny hears a lot of is parents telling their kids to “cover up”. And whilst that’s a great message, unfortunately, the reality is that they’re covering up in clothing that does little to actually protect their skin.
“We see lots of people wearing white shirts with loose weave fabrics and these have very negligible effects against sun’s damaging rays. If you can see through the shirt in any way when held up to the sun – choose something else. Floaty fabrics of oversize shirts and caftans might look lovely, they’re just not effective against the sun”.
A light tan is okay – um, no, no it’s not.
Lots of mums and dads think that a tan is okay, even protective for their own and/or their children’s skin. But really it’s DNA damage happening in the cells. When skin goes brown it is essentially each skin cell putting up a little brown umbrella in an effort to protect itself. Every tanned cell is a cell under stress.
And every time a child burns, it may cause a skin cancer in adulthood 20-30years later. A sunburn in childhood carries inherently more risk simply by virtue of the lag time available for those cells’ DNA to mutate. That’s why it’s important to protect our children from burns and tans.
They’re fine if it’s overcast – no, no they’re not.
Just because there are clouds in the sky and you can’t see the sun, doesn’t mean UVA and UVB rays aren’t present. Just the other day, we came across a child whose dad hadn’t thought about sunscreen for a day playing on a water slide because it was cloudy. When they left the waterpark after an afternoon’s fun, she was ‘sun-kissed’. By the time they got home, she was beetroot red, hot and not feeling very well with a burn that persisted several days.
The rule is, if you’re outside for any length of time, you simply must slip, slop, slap, slide and seek.
Finally…set a great example for them.
Kids watch what you do considerably more than just listening to what you say. They watch you;
- care for your own skin
- seek shade in the heat of the day
- grab a cover-up, hat and sunnies when you’re outside
- apply sunscreen. Every. Single. Time. you play outdoors
- As a mum, they watch you put on sunscreen under your makeup every day
- monitor your own skin (and theirs)
- get skin cancer checks as part of your annual medical care routine.
These are all things that inform them of how they can and should look after their own skin.
So if you’ve got a spot that might need to be checked or you’ve been sunburned at some point in your life and haven’t had your skin checked by a skin cancer Dr yet (or for a while), set a great example for your children or grandchildren and schedule a skin cancer check.
You can call us on 9999 0336 (Northern Beaches clinic) or 9223 1608 (Sydney City clinic) or you can put your details in the form below and we’ll get back to you shortly with our next available appointment.
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