Staying Safe and Happy in the Sun
When it comes to summer we all hope for sun, lot and lots of sun. We want the kids to be out and about enjoying the fresh air, playing in the garden or yard, at the park, at the beach; anywhere that is fun and healthy. While this is a great attitude, especially in these modern times when you see youngsters seemingly surgically attached to electronic devices 24/7 it is essential that parents are sun safety savvy.
There’s a lot to consider when you think about keeping little ones happy and safe in sun. You need to consider suncream, SPF factors, the overall temperature, hydration and more. Here we break down the who, what, where and why of staying safe and well in the sun so that you may confident that everyone’s summer will be fabulous and drama-free (at least as far as the sun and heat are concerned)!
Let’s talk about UV Rays. Often this topic is one we know a bit about yet really don’t understand fully. For example, do you know your UVA from your UVC?
Sunlight contains three ultraviolet rays and understanding what is what and how they affect you helps to promote effective sun safety.
These are the rays we encounter most frequently as these pass easily through the ozone layer and onto our skin. UVA rays have been proven to be responsible for wrinkles, skin aging and may be a contributing factor to those at risk of developing skin cancers such as melanoma.
These nasty little so and so rays can also be pretty unpleasant, being associated again with skin cancer (melanoma), sun burn, eye damage (cataracts) and more. Thankfully the majority of these rays are absorbed by our protective ozone layer however enough sneak through to cause us damage if we are not careful.
If this wasn’t a family page we’d have some very choice words to describe these rays however thankfully these nasty UVC rays don’t reach us down here, thanks to the ozone layer (something to consider next time you see a poster about protecting the environment and the ozone layer!).
Before we all pack up to move somewhere with very little sun (no, not the UK, we were thinking the North Pole), there are steps that we can take to protect ourselves and our children from these rays.
SPF and What This Means
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is found on all sun creams / sun screens. This number is used to show the sunscreen’s ability to keep us safe from the sun’s nasty UVA and UVB rays. The numbers might not actually mean what you think though. On average our skin can last anywhere from ten to twenty minutes (give or take) without sun cream in the sun before it starts to burn. If you choose a sunscreen with a factor of thirty this is supposed to mean that it will protect your children’s skin for thirty times longer than that, so for ten minutes it would be three hundred minutes of “cover”.
Of course there are lot of things to be aware of when choosing sunscreen such as the SPF factor and whether or not it is water resistant or suitable for children (i.e. sensitive skin as sunscreens do contain chemicals). Also look out for sunscreens which state that they cover the full spectrum of UV rays (sometimes marked as broad spectrum). Water resistant sunscreen is good not only for swimming / water play, it also helps keep your little ones protected when they sweat.
Always use sun cream before going out in the sun and remember to reapply as required as it would be wise to assess how long the protection is likely to last based on the activities your children as doing, how old they are, how long they will be in the sun and assorted other factors.
Sunscreen is essential however don’t rely upon it alone, make sure your little ones are covered up (or not outside!) during the strongest hours of sunlight, wear a cap and rest in the shade whenever possible.
Hydration in little ones is very important when it isn’t hot and sunny and therefore is doubly so when the temperatures start to climb or when children are particularly active. Young child can get dehydrated very quickly and so it is essential that you guard against this. Staying hydrated doesn’t have to be boring though…
- Make your own healthy and hydrating ice lollies or ice pops for little ones to enjoy
- Sugar free jellies make a great fun snack and also help to boost hydration
- Water-containing foods are a sneaky source of hydration
- Offer water and weak juices regularly
- Use curly straws and funky water bottles and containers to encourage drinking
- Use a timer or a whistle to alert children to it being drink time
- Keep drinks cool with ice cubes (no-one likes drinking warm water on a cold day). Make sure younger children are safe with ice cubes, i.e. they are inside a sealed water/sports bottle to avoid choking.
- Consider a fruit infusion bottle for children who really don’t like the taste of plain water. You fill an internal chamber with favourite fruits and then the water is gently flavoured naturally. Kids love the novelty and again this encourages drinking.
Are Sunglasses for Children Important?
Yes, sunglasses for children are very important! Many adults wear sunglasses during bright weather however you rarely see children doing the same. The trick is to find a pair that stay on, that the children like (which reduces the risk of them taking them off / refusing to wear them) and which offers adequate eye protection. There is some excellent information on children’s vision and appropriate sun glasses for children on this Your Sight Matters site (well worth a look at)
Water play, paddling pools, swimming and water fights are all pretty much a given when it comes to fun in the sun but be aware than when in the water children aren’t necessarily protected and that despite wearing water-resistant sun cream it would be wise to monitor skin protection and reapply as and when required.
Signs and Symptoms of Heatstroke and Heat Exhaustion
Sunscreen if used effectively does a good job of protecting your children’s skin from ultraviolet rays however it doesn’t protect against heat. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke are both serious conditions and can come about very quickly in children especially. It is wise to watch for signs and symptoms and to be pro-active in guarding against them.
Heat exhaustion occurs when your child has become too hot. They start to feel unwell due to salt and water loss. Less dangerous than heatstroke yet certainly not pleasant heat exhaustion could become heatstroke if not treated quickly and effectivity.
Heatstroke occurs when a child can no longer control their own body temperature. In the event of heat stroke a child’s (or adult’s) temperature is likely to soar to dangerous levels. This isn’t as common as heat exhaustion yet certainly needs to be guarded against as heatstroke could be particularly dangerous, even posing a threat to your child’s life.
Look out for these signs of heat exhaustion:
- Feeling dizzy or perhaps faint
- Less frequent urination
- Being very thirsty
- Having a faster than usual pulse
- Suffering from muscle cramps
- Intense sweating
- Nausea or vomiting
All of these symptoms may be present in heatstroke however they could escalate to seizures and disorientation, and even loss of consciousness.
Being proactive by keeping your children hydrated and shielded from the worst of the heat is the best way to avoid these issues. If your child shows signs of heat exhaustion remove any excess clothing (allowing skin access to the air), take them somewhere cool and encourage drinking (water and sports drinks as these replace lost salts).
Heatstroke requires emergency medical attention so follow the above steps while awaiting an ambulance / emergency care. Encourage your child to play in the shade particularly between 11am and 3pm, when the sun is at its strongest.
Top Tips for Keeping Babies and Children Hot Weather Safe
- Cover all parts of exposed skin in a suitable sunscreen which has a minimum SPF of 15 and states it protects again UVA and UVB rays
- Make sure you reapply sunscreen as required, particularly after swimming or water play (even if sunscreen is “water resistant”).
- Avoid being out in the sun during the hottest hours, usually between 11am and 3pm
- Check the weather forecasts for expected temperatures and warnings
- Be aware of the possibility of stings and bites which are more common during the summer months. Be prepared for these.
- Utilise shade whenever possible to protect your children from the sun
- Children should wear appropriate sunhats
- Loose clothing will keep children cooler while protecting them from sun exposure
- Promote good drinking habits throughout the day to keep little ones hydrated
- Invest in some appropriate sunglasses for children
- Keep young babies (ages approximately six months or under) out of sun altogether.
Be aware of all guidelines for keeping children safe and well in the sun however use your common sense and awareness of your own children when it comes to when to reapply sunscreen, increase hydration efforts or bring children inside away from the sun and keep them cool inside.
Summer should be a time for fun and laughter, outdoor play and adventure. Some of your finest memories from childhood may well be of playing with siblings and friends in the sun. Don’t let your children’s memories by marred by sun-burn, heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Bookmark this guide to refer back to, share it with family and friends with children looking forward to fun in the sun and have the very best summer that you can. We hope it’s extra special!