Sun and children's skin

Frances Dale investigates sun care for children with sensitive skin.

Even if your child does not have sensitive skin, given that skin cancer is the third most common cancer amongst 15-39 year olds and that there is strong evidence linking sunburn in childhood with skin cancer in later life - and given the universal warnings about hotter summers and ozone depletion... there is every reason for parents to be ‘sunburn-aware’.

Avoiding the strong midday sun by either staying inside or at least playing in the shade is generally recommended, as are long sleeves and long trousers. If these are in loose natural fibres such as cotton they can actually help the child feel cooler. If you can also persuade your child to wear a sun hat, that is the best protection for head, ears and neck - but if the best you can do is a baseball cap, try to make them wear it back to front to protect their necks and put plenty of sunscreen on their ears!

Indeed, put plenty of sunscreen everywhere - and don’t forget that even the best wash off so need replenishing. (SolarSafe do wrist bands which change colour as the sunscreen wears off.)

Persuading kids to wear sun glasses to protect not only their eyes but the sensitive skin around the eyes is also a good idea - and usually much easier to achieve!

And don’t forget that babies under six months should never be exposed to direct sunlight at all.

Sun exposure, or light therapy, has been used for decades to treat
contact and discoid eczema but sun exposure may worsen or trigger other forms of eczema so it is important to consult your doctor before exposing a child with eczema to the sun.

Some antihistamines and antibiotics can also cause the skin to become especially sun sensitive.

In general remember that sun exposure can be drying to the skin, so always have extra emollients available. Salt water, sand and chlorine can also be irritating so always make sure the child showers or bathes thoroughly when they come out of the sun.

Also remember that chemical-based sunscreens are absorbed into the skin and can irritate eczema whereas mineral-based screens (see The Green People for a good range formulated specially for children) sit on the skin and form a barrier. A child or a fair-skinned adult should always use a sunscreen with a factor of 15 or above - and if the skin is irritable, try not to rub too hard when applying the cream.


First published 2007


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