FAQs

FAQs


A combination of effective sun protection measures is recommended when daily UV levels reach 3 and above. So, depending on your geographical location your sun protection times may differ throughout the day and year. In Canberra daily UV levels reach 3 and above for part or most of each day between August and May. Sun protection is generally not recommended around the June and July period, unless spending extended time outdoors ie working, excursions etc.

The best way to know when sun protection is and is not really necessary in Canberra is to view the daily SunSmart UV Index. When daily UV levels are forecast to reach 3 and above the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) will issue a SunSmart UV Alert which signals the time of the day when sun protection will be recommended as UV levels will be strong enough to damage unprotected skin.

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Can ACT primary schools/early childhood services still be awarded ‘SunSmart status’ even if they continue to implement sun protection all year round?

No, not really, not anymore anyway! Current best practice is to adopt a combination of the 5 sun protection measures when UV levels are strong enough to damage unprotected skin - ie when UV levels reach 3 and above.

Effective sun protection practices (ie Being SunSmart) will not only reduce a child’s long term risk of skin and eye damage but should also ensure adequate vitamin D levels from the sun’s ultraviolet B radiation are maintained to allow for healthy bone and muscle development and maintenance, especially during the winter period when UV levels are low.

Note: ACT services and primary schools that decide to continue with ‘all year’ sun protection are still encouraged to 'participate' in the program but will not be awarded a recognised ‘SunSmart status’ until they have updated their policy implementation period to meet national SunSmart standards.

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Isn’t it too confusing for children to take hats off during the June and July period?

No, it should not be. Being SunSmart is about being 'smart' when in the 'sun' and staff can implement affective ways to do this, ie exchanging hats for beanies when UV levels are 'low' in winter etc

It is also nice for parents, carers and educators and teachers to know that sun protection is not always necessary just because the sun is out and that there are times when you can safely spend time enjoying the sun without increasing your risk of skin cancer.This is a good time to explain to children what being SunSmart means?

A sensible balance between too much and too little sun (UV) is important to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. It is also a good opportunity for your service or school to reinforce positive sun protection behaviour when UV levels start to rise in Canberra- so around the beginning of August is a great time to once again remind parents and staff about the importance of sun protection and what is expected at your service or school.

A good slogan and a simple reminder that Canberra schools and services can adopt into their calendar of events is:

“The Beginning of August is Hats ON Again for All of Us”
And

“The End of May is Hats OFF Day”

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Do children really need to remain inside between 10am and 3pm ALL year round?

No, ACT early childhood services should always aim to take care when spending time outdoors when UV levels are 3 and above.

However as UV levels become more intense during the daylight saving/summer period of the year, Canberra childhood services and schools should be aiming to at least minimise outdoor activities as much as reasonably practicable between the daily 'peak UV period' (ie between 11am and 3pm). If you are outdoors during this period then minimise the time, be SunSmart and always seek shade.

Remember children need to be active everyday, and getting outdoors to acheive this is fine, just remember to be SunSmart and take that extra care when UV levels are at their peak during the middle of the day.

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What does it mean to “minimise” time outdoors between 11am and 3pm during daylight saving/summer time?

During the daylight saving/summer time of the year (around October to March in Canberra) daily UV levels between 11am and 3pm will generally be HIGH to EXTREME and the potential to cause skin damage will be greatly increased during this period. Whilst it may be best to try to avoid outdoor activities during this period if possible, we do recognise that early childhood services and schools have to manage a wide range of needs for the children in their care. Therefore, it is safer to at least minimise both the frequency (how often you go outside) and duration (how long you stay outside) of outdoor activities and events during this strong UV period of the day/ year.

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Can we spend more time outside IF we have good shade?

The short answer is NO, especially during summer. Well designed shade (natural or constructed) is one of the most effective ways to reduce direct exposure to the sun’s UV radiation. However, even with good shade children can still be exposed to direct and indirect UV radiation because:

  • They are active and move in and out of shade
  • UV radiation can reflect in from the side, or from surfaces and walls, for example sandpits are highly reflective
  • Even the best shade cannot block out 100% UV radiation.

Remember shade is just one component of your service’s comprehensive sun protection strategy.

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How do I know if children are getting enough Vitamin D?

Vitamin D, which is needed to develop and maintain strong and healthy bones is made in the body when the skin is exposed to small amounts of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UVB). Almost all vitamin D comes from the sun’s UVR. A small amount of vitamin D can be obtained from some foods, such as fish, meat and eggs, but usually this is not enough to maintain optimal health.

In Australia most children should receive enough UVB to maintain adequate vitamin D levels through the 'incidental' sun exposure they receive during their day-to-day outdoor activities. Plus children are active and tend to spend time outdoors every day playing- so even being SunSmart they are going to maintain their vitamin D levels.

Regular use of sunscreen when UV levels are 3 and above does not greatly decrease vitamin D levels over time.

Children who may be at risk of low vitamin D levels include those with mothers who have low levels, children with naturally dark skin who require more UV exposure to produce adequate vitamin D levels as the pigment in their skin reduces UV penetration, or those children who cover their faces and bodies for cultural or religious reasons.

Parents who are concerned about their child’s vitamin D levels (or their own levels for that matter) should speak to their GP. For further information read our page on Vitamin D.

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Are ACT primary schools required to make sunscreen accessible and available to students?

Cancer Council ACT and ACT Education and Training Directorate (SP200609) encourages all Canberra schools to make sunscreen available for situations where students have not provided their own. It is an expectation that ACT schools have a sunscreen strategy in place as part of their ongoing efforts to reduce UV exposure amongst students and teachers (under WH&S).

ACT schools should actively support the regular daily use of sunscreen on exposed skin that cannot be protected by school uniforms.

It is good practice to have sunscreen located in school classrooms or at "sunscreen application spots" throughout your school.

Students should also have access to sunscreen during outdoor school carnivals, excursions and for PE etc.

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Do dark skinned children need to worry about sun exposure?

Yes, care still needs to be taken in the sun. Even though the incidence of skin cancer is significantly lower amongst naturally very dark-skinned people, skin cancers can still occur and are often detected at a later, and far more dangerous stage.

Sun exposure can also cause damage to the eyes, such as contributing to the development of cataracts.

Cataracts have blinded around 16 million people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, up to 20% of these may have been caused or enhanced by sun exposure, especially in countries close to the equator, such as India, Pakistan and parts of Africa etc.

High levels of UV radiation have also been linked to harmful effects on the immune system.

Infants and toddlers (say up to 4 years of age) are particularly vulnerable to UV radiation-induced changes in the skin due to lower levels of melanin and a thinner stratum corneum, the outermost layer of skin. Skin thickness shows a gradual increase from birth to adulthood. The epidermis is thicker in adults than it is in children. For infants, the total skin thickness for all body sites was estimated as 660 µm based on forearm measurements for infants less than 10 years of age. For adult males, the mean skin thickness on the arms and legs was estimated as 1200 µm and on the head and trunk as 2000 µm. 

Therefore, limiting direct sun exposure and clothing cover when outdoors (ie when UV levels are 3 and above) is recommended regardless of skin type.

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My school does not actively remind/support my child to apply sunscreen during the day, should it?

Short answer is YES. Australia has the highest skin cancer rates in the world and ACT schools have a duty of care to protect the students and staff (WH&S) under their care from any foreseeable harm, this includes over-exposure to the sun's UV radiation.

Australian schools play an important part in combating skin cancer. By implementing sensible yet effective policy and practices schools can significantly reduce childhood exposure to potentially harmful solar UV radiation 5 days a week. 

ACT primary schools, and especially schools with national SunSmart status, should be actively involved in supporting and reminding students to apply sunscreen each day, ie before lunch time (when UV levels peak) and PE etc.

Whilst many Canberra parents may send their child to school with sunscreen applied, to remain effective sunscreen needs to be reapplied after 2 hours, even more often is washed or wiped of. Come lunch time (when daily UV levels peak), students who have not applied sunscreenbefore going outside will be at an increased risk of sunburn and potential skin damage, further increasing their long term risk of skin cancer later in life.

Melanoma is the most common diagnosed cancer amongst young Australians, and as children get older their sun protection behaviour slow, for example hat wearing decreases as sunscreen becomes the "preffered" choice of sun protection amongst teens. Primary schools should therefore be supporting the use of sunscreen.

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Do children with very fair skin need more protection?

Yes, skin type is genetically determined and ranges from fair to dark (Type 1 to 6 skin). Children with very fair or fair skin that burns easily have a tendency to freckle and tan poorly or not at all. This is because skin that is white, fair or pale has little melanin. Melanin is the brown/black pigment that gives skin its colour which works as a 'natural' defence mechanism to protect the body from over-exposure to UV radiation. When skin is exposed to UV radiation, melanin reacts by becoming darker and giving skin a 'tanned' appearance.

Over-exposure to UV radiation can damage all skin types, including olive and dark skins and those that tan easily. However, the risk of long term skin damage, sunburn and skin cancer is highest amongst people with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue or green eyes.

Sunburn, especially during childhood and adolescence, is a significant risk factor for melanoma later in life. It is also important to protect fair skin children from cumulative, long term exposure to UV radiation and never to rely on just sunscreen.

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Are sunglasses enforced in childcare services and schools with Cancer Council SunSmart status?

No, however children who do choose to wear sunnies should be encouraged by staff, carers and parents in these services. Quality wrap-around, close fitting sunglasses that meet AS 1067 (Cat 2,3 or4) will offer best protection and when worn with a suitable hat can reduce UVR exposure to the eyes by up to 98%.

Cancer Council understands that the majority of young children may be reluctant to wear sunglasses, however keep in mind that children do mimic their parent’s (and adult) behaviour and therefore should be encouraged from a young age to slide on some sunnies when heading outdoors.

Cancer Council Australia recommends wearing close-fitting wraparound sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat to protect the eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation exposure to the eyes is dependent on a number of factors and is not closely correlated to ambient UV levels and the UV index. Cancer Council Australia recommends protecting the eyes from UV at all times when outdoors during daylight hours.

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What about babies and sun protection/ sunscreen?

Infants (say under 12 months) should not be purposely exposed to direct sunlight (UVR) when UV levels reach 3 and above. So always aim to seek out adequate shade when spending time outdoors during this period with your young child. When UV levels reach 3 and above parents and infants should adopt a combination of sensible sun protection measures- Be SunSmart.

With regard to sunscreen use. The Australasian College of Dermatologists have stated that because very young babies (<6 months) absorb more of any chemical applied to the skin than adults, the widespread regular use of chemical sunscreen is not recommended.

So, physical protection such as shade, sensible clothing and hats are the best sun protection measures. If babies are kept out of the direct sun or well protected from UV radiation by wearing sensible clothing, hats and seeking shade, then a physical based sunscreen (reflective) need only be applied occasionally on very small areas of a baby’s exposed skin when direct UV expsoure from the sun is unavoidable.

During the winter period in Canberra (around June and July) UV levels are 'low' each day (under 3) and sun protection behaviour can be "relaxed", this will assist in the maintenance of your baby's vitamin D levels over the winter period. However if spending time outdoors during this 'low' UV period then it is a good idea to minimise your baby's direct UV exposure by wearing sensible clothing and a hat and seeking out some shade.

When babies are taking part in outdoor activities and events between August and May in Canberra, ensure they are always well protected from the sun's direct ultra violet radiation when levels reach 3 and above. Download our free SunSmart App to assist you and your family with daily sun protection times in Canberra.

For more information read Cancer Council Australia's Position Statement - Sun protection and infants (0-12 months).

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Isn’t there a connection between sharing hats and head lice?

Head lice have not been found to live in hats. Head lice very rarely fall from the head and require blood to survive. Head lice feed three to four times a day and without blood, will dehydrate in six hours in a dry climate and 24 hours in a humid climate. An egg requires warmth to hatch and is the reason why they are laid close to the scalp. The further away from the scalp, the less likely they are to survive. Hats do not provide the right conditions for head lice to survive and thrive.

Ref: Department of Health, Victorian Government
Canyon DV, Speare R, Müller R. Spatial and kinetic factors for the transfer of head lice (Pediculus capitis) between hairs. Journal of Investigative Dermatology 2002; 119(3):629-31

Hats have always been considered high-risk items, but without any hard data to support this. We have looked at over 1000 hats in four schools at the same time as students were initially examined for head lice. We found no head lice in these hats and over 5500 head lice on the students' heads, suggesting that the odds of head lice transmission occurring via hats are low.

Ref: Speare, R. and P.G. Buettner, Hard data needed on head lice transmission. International Journal of Dermatology, 2000. 39(11): p. 877-8.

 

 

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What if my child is allergic to the sunscreen provided by their service or school?

It is not common for children to be allergic to sunscreen, however in the case a child may be allergic to a specific sunscreen provided by the service or school then parents should notify the service/school about this. Parents have the option of providing the daycare service with a hypoallergenic sunscreen and should send their child to school with a suitable sunscreen- of course they have to apply it at school!

The risk of allergies and cross infection from sunscreen use is very small. If an allergic reaction to sunscreen does occur, it is usually caused by perfumes and/or preservatives in the product, not the chemicals that filter UV. In the rare chance that a child has an allergic reaction to a sunscreen, families should try another brand or look for a fragrance-free product such as a toddler or sensitive sunscreen. They can also contact the manufacturer about sunscreen ingredients. A doctor or chemist could also offer advice about choosing another product.

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How should we apply sunscreen to each child in our early childcare service?

Advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) states that children who are able to apply their own sunscreen (under supervision) should be encouraged to do so. This fosters independence and responsibility. For those children unable or to young to apply sunscreen, it is recommended that if a carer/educator is doing a 'mass sunscreen application' they should wash their hands before and after each application.

Alternatively they can use a different tissue for each child when applying the sunscreen. However, unless the child (or the carer) has a visible skin disease or a cold / virus, it is not really an infection-control issue. If a child does have a visible skin disease e.g. eczema or open skin wound, or a cold / virus their sunscreen should be applied last using gloves or a tissue.

Services should always apply sunscreen to children before going outside, aim for at least 15-20 minutes, if this is not always possible then aim to apply sunscreen as close to this recommendation as possible. Sunscreen should be reapplied after two hours, more frequently if swimming, sweating or crying etc.

However sunscreen should not be used to extend time spent outdoors, and should always be used in combination with the other sun protection measures.

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How much sunscreen should I apply?

Most people apply too little sunscreen. This results in sunscreen users achieving an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) significantly less than is specified on the product label (between 50-80% less).

Apply sunscreen liberally – for the average size adult this means at least a teaspoon for each limb, front and back of the body and approx half a teaspoon for the face, neck and ears.

This equates to approximately 35ml per application for an adult (7 teaspoonfuls = approx 35ml).

For an average toddler this equates to approximately 18ml for a full body application (say 1/2 a teaspoon of sunscreen to each limb, face (neck and ears) etc.

There is no evidence that sunscreen used on small areas of a baby's skin has any harmful effects. No sunscreen provides 100% protection. Babies need to be physically well protected from UVR by clothing, hats and shade. You only need to use sunscreen on very small areas of baby's exposed skin eg, legs, arms and feet etc when direct UV expoure is unavoidable.

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How do sunscreens work, is sunscreen safe to use? Other questions about sunscreen.

Advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) states that children who are able to apply their own sunscreen (under supervision) should be encouraged to do so. This fosters independence and responsibility. For those unable to apply sunscreen, it is recommended that if a carer is doing 'mass sunscreen applying' they should wash their hands before and after the task. They can use a different tissue for each child when applying the sunscreen, however, unless the child (or the carer) has a visible skin disease or a cold / virus, it is not really an infection-control issue. If a child does have a visible skin disease e.g. eczema or open skin wound, or a cold / virus their sunscreen should be applied last using gloves or a tissue. Sunscreen should be applied at least 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapplied every two hours even if the stated level of water resistance is 4 hours.

The risk of allergies and cross infection from sunscreen use is very small. If an allergic reaction to sunscreen does occur, it is usually caused by perfumes and/or preservatives in the product, not the chemicals that filter UV. In the rare chance that a child has an allergic reaction to a sunscreen, families should try another brand or look for a fragrance-free product such as a toddler or sensitive sunscreen. They can also contact the manufacturer about sunscreen ingredients. A doctor or chemist could also offer advice about choosing another product.

Read all the current scientific evidence about sunscreens, how they work, are they safe to use, vitamin D production and more here

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Aren't caps better than nothing?

Not really. Australian research indicates that caps allow up to 100% of ambient UV radiation to reach the ears, sides of the face and back of the neck. These are the most common locations for skin cancers in later life.

* Gies, Peter; Javorniczky, John; Roy, Colin; Henderson, Stuart. Measurements of the UVR Protection Provided by Hats Used at School. Photochemistry and Photobiology. May 1, 2006.

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Do we need to reapply sunscreen after washing children's faces and hands after eating?

As a precaution it is recommended reapplying sunscreen, even if it was water resistant sunscreen, because if soap is used or a face washer, the sunscreen would most likely have been wiped of, so to ensure you get the stated level of protection it would be best to reapply sunscreen in these cases.

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During some periods of the day between August and May UV levels are under 3 (low) but we still enforce hat wearing and sunscreen etc- is this OK?

Yes, it's not the end of the world. There will be times between August and May when daily UV levels are going to be under 3 during school hours Canberra ie early morning and late afternoon (as we enter and exit the winter period). Whilst ACT early childhood services and schools are encouraged to access daily UV levels and sun protection times to better assist them with their SunSmart practices,  Cancer Council ACT understands that this strategy for some services and schools may be difficult to communicate with all staff and children each day, and may cause some confusion.

The important thing is that the children in your care (and workers) are well protected from direct UV exposure when spending time outdoors when UV levels are 3 and above- strong enough to damage unprotected skin. In June and July daily UV levels drop and stay under 3 all day in Canberra so during this period, at least, services and schools should not experience any difficulties communicating this message to workers, children and parents.

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Sunscreen has stained my child's clothes/uniform, what can i do to remove it?

Unfortunately, all sunscreens stain clothing because the chemicals in the sunscreen react to UV light and change the chemical compound of fabric. This is less likely to occur in natural fibres, and more likely in synthetic fibres. Luckily, we also have the answer on how to remove sunscreen stains in clothes! Add a few drops of dish washing liquid and massage in to the area. Allow it to thicken and leave for a few minutes, then add a 2 drops of glycerine and rub clean.

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In the new Guide to the National Quality Standard, under Quality Area 3 (Physical environment) is Reg 114 Outdoor Space- Shade. It states that each education and care service premises must include adequate shaded areas to protect children from overexposure to ultraviolet radiation. How do I know if my service has ‘adequate’ shaded areas?

Adequate shade provides good UV protection in high use areas at peak UV times. The sun’s UV is most intense during the middle of the day (between 10 – 3pm). Where do most children play during this time? That area has a priority for shade. Many children like to play in smaller cluster groups so areas of shade scattered across the play space may be more appropriate.

Think about protection from direct and indirect UV. How dense is the tree canopy? How dense is the shade under the shade sail? What are the surfaces around the play space? Usually if something reflects a lot of light, it will reflect a lot of UV ie sandpit. The more rough, natural and dark the surface, the less UV reflected.

Research shows that spacious preschool environments with trees, shrubbery, and broken ground provides better sun protection and triggers more physical activity in outdoor play. A natural outdoor play space is also included in the national regulations (113 Outdoor space—natural environment).

Cancer Council cannot accurately (or definitively) recommend how much shade (quantity) is required to protect the children and educators at your service. Each service is unique and will therefore have different types of shade (including natural and built) and needs. Cancer Council advises that good use of shade is just as important as the quantity of shade. Services are therefore advised to plan outdoor activities for shaded areas and move them throughout the day to take advantage of shade patterns.

Cancer Council recommends you monitor the shade you currently have to see if it is a) protecting the majority of children at play (ie is it positioned where children are playing) at peak UV times and b) providing good protection (UPF) from the sun’s UV radiation?

Click here to be directed to Cancer Council's free online shade audit tool.

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Why are ACT secondary school students not required to wear hats at lunch time and for PE?

Cancer Council ACT encourages all Canberra schools to be SunSmart, even secondary schools. For more information on ACT secondary schools and sun protection behaviour click here.

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Are students required to wear their sun protection hat under their helmet when riding bikes?

The Cancer Council ACT's SunSmart Schools Program does not recommend wearing hats under helmets. Hats under helmets may interfere with peripheral vision and reduce external noise, two important elements to riding safely. To reduce the risk of over-exposure to harmful UV rays when riding, school bike riding activities and events should be minimised, when possible, between 11am and 3pm during Terms 1 and 4. Always use shade if it is available, wear sensible clothing that covers skin and apply sunscreen to reduce the risk of sun damage when riding. Riders may also consider fitting a UV protective cover to their helmet.

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We don’t let children go outside when it’s hot. At what temperature should we keep children indoors?

Heat discomfort and protection from skin and eye damage are quite different. Infrared radiation (heat) from the sun gives us warmth but doesn’t burn or damage our skin cells. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the part of the sun that can damage our unprotected skin and eyes which may lead to skin cancer. We can’t feel or see UV radiation and it is not related to high temperatures or brightness of the sun. Sometimes UV Index levels can be higher on cooler, cloudy days than hotter days. That’s why it is important not to rely on the temperature as a guide to sun protection.

Heat (infrared radiation)

Heat discomfort is not a medical condition. It is the discomfort experienced by most people when it is hot. In many cases, although we feel considerable discomfort, the conditions don’t normally lead to serious problems of heat illness.

Heat and children’s services

It is difficult to recommend a maximum temperature to cease outdoor programming in children’s services. Temperature conditions are based on different factors such as the actual space being used (is it large and airy or small and cramped?), access to shade and cooling systems, access to fresh water, the type of activities children are engaged in, frequency of rest periods, type of clothing worn, humidity, individual ability to cope with different temperatures etc. This needs to be a decision made by the committee of management for that particular service and its situation and conditions.

Heat and babies

Babies and young children should be watched carefully during hot weather. They can quickly lose body fluids through perspiring - which can lead to dehydration. They need to drink regularly, wear light clothing and be kept cool.

Things to remember

  • Babies overheat quickly in hot weather
  • Give babies and young children extra drinks in hot weather
  • Dress them in cool clothing
  • Let them sleep in the coolest room in the centre
  • Never leave children in the car
  • Always use shade when outdoors

Visit Better Health Channel for further information on Child Safety and Hot Weather

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Some parents believe sunscreen is not safe to use and it blocks vitamin D production, what do we tell these parents?

Sometimes parents may need to be updated on the most current evidence available to make an informed decision. Politely remind parents that have sunscreen concerns that there is no current evidence that suggest sunscreen use on children is unsafe nor is there any evidence to suggest that sunscreen use significantly reduces vitamin D levels.

However there  is plenty of evidence that suggest over- exposure to solar UV does cause skin damage and leads the way to the development of skin cancer later in life, including deadly melanoma.

Childhood and adolescence are critical periods during which exposure to UV radiation is more likely to contribute to skin cancer in later life.  It has been estimated that 50% of total UV exposure up to age 60 occurs before age 20.

This is because the dermis is thinner in children, with skin thickness gradually increasing from birth to adulthood. Skin thickness of the face, limbs, and trunk of children aged 2-13 years is significantly thinner compared with young adults say 25-40 years. Plus children are outdoors more than adults making them vulnerable to UV related skin and eye damage.

The choice to apply sunscreen or not should be very easy.

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