New Zealand has a high incidence of skin cancer and overexposure to the sun in childhood is known to be a major cause of skin cancer in later life.
Young people are particularly susceptible to sun damage as they have very little of the pigment melanin in their skin to protect them from sunburn.
We can work to reduce the risk of children developing skin cancer in later life by adopting some simple, sensible sun protection measures in early childhood. These measures will hopefully teach children good sun habits for life and will help keep them safe in the powerful New Zealand sun.
What your child care provider will do to protect your child from the sun
High quality child care providers should have clear sun protection policies in place based on recommendations set by the Cancer Society, which work to keep children safe and comfortable when they are playing outside.
According to the Cancer Society a sun protection policy for early childhood centres should cover how a centre will protect children and staff from the harmful effects of excessive ultraviolet radiation, include a review of behaviour, environment and existing policies and be developed in consultation with parents and caregivers.
Specifically, your centre’s sun protection policy should clearly outline policies and procedures with regard to protecting children at the centre from UV radiation including:
- Minimising outdoor play during peak UV periods
- Using shade for outdoor play
- Use of sun safe hats and protective clothing
- Use of sunscreen
- Education about sun protection
- Role modeling so staff are a positive influence on children
As with all policy and procedure documents your child care provider's sun protection policy should be available for you to review at any time.
The Cancer Society identifies the main ways child care providers should work to protect children from the effects of the sun as follows:
1. Minimise the time spent outdoors during peak UV periods
All children and staff are recommended to use a combination of sun protection measures whenever UV Index levels are 3 and above. Particular care should be taken between September and April (between 10am and 4pm) when UV levels reach their peak.
2. Use shade for outdoor play
Staying in the shade is one of the most effective ways to reduce sun exposure because it blocks or filters UV rays. However, shade doesn't guarantee total protection so providers should still encourage children to wear hats, protective clothing and sunscreen.
Children who don’t have a hat should be required to stay in the shade or inside during peak UV periods. Consideration to shade should also be given when children are away from their usual place of care, such as on an excursion.
3. Use the right hat
Well designed hats with broad brims which extend all the way around can significantly reduce UV exposure to the face, neck, ears and head.
Recommended hats for children include:
- Broad-brimmed hats with a brim size of at least 6cm
- Bucket style hats with a brim size of at least 5cm and a deep crown
- Legionnaire hats
Recommended hats for adults are:
- Broad-brimmed hats with a brim size of at least 7.5cm
- Bucket style hats with a brim size of at least 6cm and a deep crown
- Legionnaire hats
Baseball caps and sun visors are not recommended as they don't protect the neck, ears and cheeks. Many child care providers supply hats but if yours doesn't make sure you select one from the list of recommendations above.
4. Wear protective clothing
Clothing reduces the skin's exposure to UV radiation by creating a barrier to the skin. For the best UV protection children in care should cover as much skin as possible, especially the shoulders and back.
Recommended clothes include: loose fitting shirts or dresses with collars and sleeves, trousers, long skirts and shorts.
5. Apply SPF50+ broad spectrum sunscreen before going outside
Sun screen protects exposed skin and should be applied 20 minutes before children go outside and every two hours after the first application. Make sure you apply sunscreen before you send your child off to care at the start of the day, if age appropriate, teach your child to reapply sunscreen during the day and check with your provider to make sure they are reapplying sun screen.
Child care providers should use a sunscreen that:
- Has a sun protection factor of 50+ or the highest available.
- Is water resistant and broad spectrum. Broad spectrum sunscreens block out both UVA and UVB rays both of which contribute to sunburn, premature skin aging and cancer.
- Sunscreens do not block 100 per cent of UV rays and should be used in conjunction with clothing, hats, sunglasses and shade.
What your service may ask you to do to protect your child from the sun
Your service may ask you to help protect your child from the effects of the sun by:
- Dressing your child in clothes that offer good sun protection, such as long sleeved, collared shirts and long shorts, skirts and dresses
- Provide a hat for your child in accordance with the list above
- Apply sunscreen to your child in the morning before they arrive in care
- Provide sun glasses to older children
References and more reading