The warmer days and crisp blue skies of Spring are a clear invitation to spend time in the great outdoors. However harmful UV rays, the hole above us in the ozone layer, and our busy outdoor lifestyles make sun protection an absolute must for people of all ages.
As the old adage of slip, slop, slap, wrap suggests, staying sun-safe involves a combination approach of sun avoidance, especially during the hottest hours of the day between 10-3pm.
Aim to cover up and minimise exposed skin with natural fibres. Wear a large, broad brimmed hat, eye protection with polarised sunglasses, and apply sunscreen to all sun exposed skin.
Pigmented skin also needs sun protection and can certainly still experience solar damage and skin cancers.
It is also important to stay hydrated and encourage children to drink during outside activities. Aim for 1.5-3L of water per day, depending on age and size. By the time you feel thirsty, you are already mildly dehydrated!
Children over 6 months can safely use sunscreen. It is recommended to do a small, 50c size patch test on the inner arm or outer thigh of baby prior to whole body application to test for any irritation to the ingredients. If there is no reaction like redness or scaling where you’ve applied the sunscreen then you can go ahead, and apply liberally, every 2-4 hours.
For children under 6 months of age, the current recommendation is to avoid sun exposure. Babies delicate skin will burn in as little as 7 minutes, and it is preferable to keep baby in the shade and avoid exposed skin. Sunscreen can be applied if required (it’s better than getting sunburnt, as sunburn increases your risk of melanoma later in life), but sensitive skin and a smaller surface area to body size ratio means young babies may absorb chemicals through the skin more readily so it’s better to avoid the exposure in the first place.
Ensure you are applying liberal amounts of sunscreen, ideally 20minutes before sun exposure. Don’t forget the tops of the ears, scalp, neck, ears, and tip of your nose. Also, the feet and knees if you are at the beach/pool or wearing thongs!
The higher the SPF rating the better, but the best sunscreen is the one you will remember to apply regularly and use every day. Repeat application throughout the day, especially if doing water activities, and keep in a handy place for the whole family. It can also be helpful to have sunscreen in the car, your bag, and available to apply throughout the day.
Regular skin checks, and review of any changing, persistent, irritating or enlarging skin lesions can be done at your regular GP clinic. Changing coloured lesions, with different colours, asymmetry, irregular borders, or visible change, are particularly concerning for melanoma at any age, and should always be checked with your doctor. They may suggest treatment, surveillance, or refer on for further management.
The great outdoors is beckoning but remember to stay sun safe and skin smart!