As parents, we all now know the importance of sun protection for our children when the Australian summer rolls around but how many of us are as vigilant about protecting their skin in winter?
Anyone who has experienced the lobster glow after a day of snow skiing can tell you the harsh effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays aren’t limited to one season.
Even though summer is almost over, there are certain things we still need to do to keep our kids sun safe.
Skin cancer in Australia
Melanoma Awareness Foundation CEO Brett Otto tells Babyology one person dies from melanoma every six hours in Australia and in Queensland melanoma takes twice as many lives as road accidents.
“Australia has amongst the highest instance of melanoma in the world, and in Queensland there is a significantly higher instance of melanoma than any other region on the planet,” Brett says.
“For Australia, melanoma is also the number one cancer for people under the age of 35.”
Brett says the foundation, formed in 2008, aims to reduce the impact of melanoma on the community.
He says the focus is on melanoma because it is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, it can be fatal and there is no cure for advanced melanoma.
Important message for families
Melanoma Awareness Foundation project facilitator Ruth Logan lost her husband Tony to melanoma in June 2015 when he was just 60.
Despite her heartache, as a dietician she wants to encourage families to enjoy an active and healthy lifestyle outside but to do it protected from the sun.
“The obesity epidemic is a big concern to me and we obviously don’t want people not encouraging their children to play outdoors for fear of the sun,” Ruth says.
“It’s about protection from the sun rather than avoiding the sun completely and, obviously we need some exposure to the outdoors for Vitamin D and so on but it is about balance, it’s about mindfulness and it’s about being aware of the environmental conditions.”
Losing Tony and having several skin cancers removed herself, Ruth came up with the idea of a children’s book to encourage what she refers to as the three Rs in every individual – responsibility to protect yourself from the sun, resilience after being sunburnt to ensure it never happens again, and respect for the sun.
The book follows a young girl, Melanie, who after becoming sunburnt, has to choose between spending her days inside or using sun safe strategies to enjoy the outdoors.
Ruth explains her husband, who was a keen marathon runner and beachgoer and spent his working life outdoors as a landscaper, was passionate about children.
Following his death, a fun run which he usually helped organise was used to raise money for the book dedicated to him.
“The way I see it is you can either run away from these problems or you can try and address them, and this is my way of hopefully helping to raise awareness,” Ruth says.
Sun safety check list
As our children’s number one protectors, it is up to parents to ensure our kids are protected from the sun and to pass on sun safety habits as an essential part of their every day lives.
Here’s what Brett says we simply must be doing to protect our children from the sun’s UV radiation.
1. Be UV aware
Brett says just looking outside for sunshine is not good enough to determine the dangers of getting sunburnt. Parents need to monitor the UV index on the Bureau of Meteorology website.
“Whenever the UV index is greater than three, our children can still be susceptible to the sun’s harmful rays,” Brett says.
“Even though it may not be a hot day, we may be in a cooler season in the year, the UV index could still be above three.
“In most parts of Australia, the UV index is above three even through the winter season.”
Brett says he has witnessed many people get sunburnt in the coldest of conditions.
“I went to Hobart once, the temperature was around six degrees, it was freezing and everyone was walking around in coats but, that night at the restaurant everyone had these big lobster faces because they were sunburnt,” he says.
2. Cover up
Brett says some sunscreens may have had a bad rap lately but it is important we all find one that works for us and offers adequate protection.
“Parents really need to make sure their children cover up when outdoors with long sleeve shirts, hats and sunscreen,” he says.
3. Monitor skin changes
Early intervention is extremely important because skin cancer and melanoma take too many young lives each year.
Brett says even children as young as eight in Australia have died in recent years due to melanoma.
“Parents need to check their children’s skin regularly for changes in skin spots,” he says.
4. Annual skin check
Brett says parents should add a skin check to the list when visiting the doctor.
“Take your children for an annual skin check up with a doctor from the time they first start school, this is so important so any changes or concerns can be picked up as early as possible,” he says.
5. Lead by example
Ruth says all too often she notices parents will go to great lengths to ensure their children are adequately protected in the sun but neglect themselves.
“Parents need to ensure they are also covering up in the sun,” she says.
“I think today parents are really good about protecting their children but not so much about protecting themselves.”