When it comes to protecting your kids from sun damage, you need to start them young. Here’s why.
Kids love the outdoors, fact. And us parents love the sunny, tropical holiday feel that living in Singapore provides. But how sun smart are you when it comes to protecting your kids? Apparently not great. According to a recent Singapore survey*, while 79.4 per cent of parents agreed sun protection can reduce the risk of skin cancer in the future, only 10 per cent tell their children to apply sunscreen regularly. That’s pretty alarming, especially given the current figures from the Singapore Cancer Registry, which show an increase in the number of younger people being diagnosed with skin cancer in Singapore. Eeek.
It’s time to get sun smart, parents
Sometimes there’s nothing like some alarming stats to give us a shake-up. These fast facts will have you thinking twice about sun safety for your kids:
- Singapore has one of the highest UV indexes in the world, reaching “very high” or “extreme” levels every day.
- Getting a blistering sunburn even once can double the risk of skin cancer later in life.
- In Singapore, skin cancer cases have risen in the last 10 years. Skin cancer now ranks as the 6th most common cancer among males, and 7th among females.
- Your child is exposed to around half of their lifetime’s UV radiation by the time they hit 20.
Sun safety for kids? Be like Mozart.
That last stat has us mums in the office shuddering. UV damage takes its sweet time to develop, which is why, if you want to protect your kids from the sun and instil good, sun smart habits, you need to be like Mozart: start young.
“There are studies to show that increased risk of melanoma is related to childhood sunburns,” says dermatologist Dr Colin Theng from The Skin Specialists & Laser Clinic. “There’s always a lag between the development of impacts such as skin cancer or photoageing and exposure to the sun, so the severity really depends on how much exposure a person accumulates through the years. Usually, it’s 20 to 30 years later that all these changes start to develop. That’s why sun protection has to start at a very young age – prevention is key.”
Turning the sun protection tide in Singapore
Behind the recent survey in question are four final-year students from NTU’s Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, who set out to change the status quo in Singapore. They created SunWise, Singapore’s first non-profit health communications campaign that raises awareness among parents to encourage early adoption of proper sun protection habits for their children.
Partnering with Singapore Cancer Society, SunWise recognises parents as being the first step in educating children about sun safety. The aim? Letting parents go worry-free while letting their child still have fun under the sun. They maintain that having fun outdoors is good for children’s development, but without proper protection, any exposure to the sun is already too much exposure.
“Promoting proper sun protection habits is something very close to all of our hearts,” says Jasmine Hoe Li Min, one of the four students behind SunWise. “While growing up, we felt our parents never really practised proper sun hygiene with us, especially before swimming lessons or any outdoor activities. This resulted in us having many memories of painful sunburns. We hope SunWise will encourage parents to see how fuss-free and easy sun protection can be – something they can do while letting their children have fun under the sun with the best possible protection.”
Sun safety? **slathers on SPF130**
It’s a common misconception: many of us think that the higher SPF you use, the more protection it will offer your child. Wrong.
“As the SPF increases from 0, the degree of protection increases, but it will reach a certain point where the protection levels off, at around SPF 15 to 30,” says Dr Cheong Lai Leng from LL Cheong Skin & Laser Clinic. “Therefore, the difference in protection between an SPF 50 and an SPF 100 sunscreen is negligible. The latter gives people a false sense of security so they spend more time in the sun.” According to SunWise, sunscreens with SPF 30 is sufficient for use in Singapore.
Your four-step plan to sun safety for kids
Kids can still have their fun in the sun… they just need to be safe! Here, SunWise shares its four-step guide to how parents can properly protect their children:
1. Slather on that sunscreen!
Apply SPF30 and broad-spectrum sunscreen on all exposed skin (don’t forget the back of your neck that their T-shirt collars don’t cover!) at least 20 minutes before going outdoors daily. Reapply every two hours.
2. Wear UV-protection sunglasses.
Look for sunglasses that wrap around your face and block as close to 100 per cent of both UVA and UVB rays.
3. Wear a hat or cap.
Wide-brimmed hats protect the exposed areas. They go well with sunglasses and sunscreen too.
4. Seek shade when the UV index levels are the highest.
Usually that’s between 11am and 3pm.
Stay sun smart, parents. Your kids’ll thank you for it.
* Survey of 170 parents with primary school children, conducted by Nanyang Technological University (NTU) students.