August is Summer Sun Safety month. Your skin is your body’s largest organ. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, but most skin cancers can be cured if detected early. There are two main types of skin cancer; melanoma and non-melanoma. I was recently diagnosed with reoccurring malignant melanoma (you can read my story in full in the links below).
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK and the rates continue to rise. At least 100,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, and the disease kills over 2,500 people each year in the UK – that’s seven people every day.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause damage to the skin and lead to skin cancer. In fact, UV exposure is the main preventable cause of skin cancer.
Experiencing severe sunburn, particularly in childhood, increases the risk of developing skin cancer in later life, so it’s very important to protect yourself and your family from the sun. (https://www.britishskinfoundation.org.uk/how-to-stay-safe-in-the-sun)
So, now in the process of receiving treatment, and lying in the shade with my factor 50 applied so I looked like a snowman, sunhat and long-sleeve top under the umbrella on the beach in Spain, I began to contemplate and Google (a lot) of things like… When was suntan location first invented? Why we do sunbathe? Why is being brown seen as beautiful? I discovered that when I was a child factor 50 sun lotion didn’t exist. Most of my sun damage was likely to be when I was a child when, unfortunately, we didn’t know then what we know now. Summer is here, we cheer, and we send children out to play, or go on holiday, and think sun, sand, sea or swimming pool. In fact, we actively engage in send our children out in the sunshine to play, wearing minimal clothing, and encourage them to stay outside, whether it’s at home in the garden, or on holiday on the beach. However, do we say ‘Hooray, it’s raining kids, get your waterproof’s and wellies, here is an umbrella, go and play out in the rain’? Yet, which is more dangerous or represents wilful neglect? After my experience, my daughter is not allowed out in the mid day sun, is made to wear a sun hat and carries SPF 50 in her bag at all times.
Tanning is actually a fairly recent idea and I believe this ideology of ‘brown is beautiful’ will eventually need to change to save ourselves and our children. Just like smoking… Once, nearly everyone used to do it because it was fashionable. This was until society acknowledged that smoking can cause lung cancer and legislation was introduced to protect children from the harms of passive smoking. It is now against the law to smoke with a child in the car.
Sunburn is a red, painful skin reaction from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. The skin absorbs UV light from sunlight, as well as artificial sources of light such as tanning beds. UV rays can also cause invisible damage to the skin. Excessive or multiple sunburns cause wrinkling and premature aging of the skin. Sun exposure is also the leading cause of skin cancer.
Children often spend a good part of their day playing outdoors in the sun, especially during the summer. Children are more likely to develop skin cancer in later years if they have:
- Fair skin, moles, or freckles
- Multiple blistering sunburns
- A family history of skin cancer
Exposure to the sun during daily activities and play causes the most sun damage. Overexposure to sunlight before the age of 18 is most damaging to the skin.
These are the most common symptoms of sunburn:
- Swelling of the skin
- Dry, itching, and peeling skin 3 to 8 days after the burn
More severe cases may cause:
- Weakness, confusion, or faintness
So why on earth do we not see campaigns and educational tools in our early years settings, mid-wife literature, as well as schools? By allowing our children to be exposed to the sun’s harmful rays without appropriate clothing, sun hats, long sleeves and factor 50, then we are not protecting them from the harm that the sun can do.
Is it not neglectful if we allow children to get sunburnt once (remember, being sunburnt once as a child can increase the risk of skin cancer), or so badly burnt that they need to be taken to hospital? Should hospital and health practitioners not consider severe sunburn, or repeated episodes of sunburn requiring medical treatment, a safeguarding concern? Yes, there may be a variety of mitigating or risk factors as there may be with other safeguarding concerns, but I feel very strongly that, today, we know better, so, therefore, we should be more proactive. The old-fashioned saying in this case is ‘prevention is better than cure’.
Raising awareness is always a key factor. Whenever there is a heat wave in the UK, numbers of severe sunburn cases among children are reported to hospitals. Some parents have reported that school staff will not apply sunscreen because of risk of allergic reaction and won’t administer it without written permission from a parent, which, in my opinion is barmy. I believe sun hats, long sleeves and suntan cream should be given to children, just like we feed them breakfast, lunch and dinner. Why on earth do we fry ourselves under the burning sun? Why do we not acknowledge the power of the sun’s rays between 11am and 3pm and stay out of it? Just like during children’s sports day or playing out in the playground – sun safety should be part of the risk assessment for these activities and each child given the tools to be kept safe from the sun.
Why is sun safety not mandatory within nurseries and schools as part of the safeguarding agenda? I do not know, but what I do know is that there are some contradictions in this area, for example, the NICE guidelines and Cancer Research advocate sunscreen SPF15 and the NHS and the British Association of Dermatologists advocate sunscreen SPF30. How do we expect parents and professionals to know what is best if all the organisations behind public health guidance in this arena are not able to have a joined-up consistent policy nationwide? There needs to be the same consistent message for protection from the sun as we advocate for safeguarding in organisations and safer cultures. This should be the same for safer kids in the sun. This can be delivered under the PHSE for schools and in early years settings. With coherent policy and procedures, where accreditation, monitoring and regulation is undertaken on an annual basis, we can continue to safeguard our children from the sun.
I understand this conversation on sunburn and parental responsibility is one of severity and patterns of behaviour. However, I do believe and want to champion that sun safety is a public health issue and, with everything we know about today about the harmful rays of the sun, we can only want to protect our children. It’s not just skin cancer. Please just stay safe in the sun.
Schools and sun safe nurseries
NWCR Sun Safety Campaign