The most obvious problem is that people often believe a high factor sun cream means they are safer to spend longer periods in the sun. Parents are advised to stick to shade with young children and to take the sun in smaller doses, and factor 50 products often lead parents into a false sense of security. Whilst factor 50 may protect against some of the sun’s harmful rays and sunburn, heat exhaustion and dehydration are also particularly concerning risks for children. Heat exhaustion can quickly turn into heat stroke which can become fatal without treatment.
Experts are also concerned with parents’ understanding of the protection offered by factor 50 and above. The chemicals involved in protecting the skin only protect against the sun’s UVB rays, which are responsible for superficial burns and skin damage. They do not, however, protect against the more harmful UVA rays which penetrate much deeper and cause much more harmful, potentially sinister, skin damage that is impossible to detect. Some experts believe the misleading nature of high factor sun creams, and the resultant sun behaviour of the user, is directly to blame for the rise in melanomas and studies have yet to find any strong evidence that high factor sun creams provide any greater protection than factor 30 applied liberally and reapplied frequently.
The concentrations of chemicals involved in high protection factors have also been found to be potentially harmful to the user. With research demonstrating the penetrative effect of these concentrations upon the skin along with an increased risk of tissue damage and hormone disruption, the risks do not outweigh the supposed benefits.
Safe Sun Behaviour
Parents looking to protect their children from the sun can follow a number of sun safety precautions without using chemical laden factor 50 sun creams. A sensible approach is supported over taking a “one size fits all” blanket approach to sun safety.
AVOID THE MIDDAY SUN Between the hours of 11am and 3pm the temperature is hotter than at any other point of the day and the sun’s rays are most intense. Many experts recommend spending around 10-20 minutes in the midday sun, without sun cream, for optimal vitamin d production but otherwise sticking to the shade as much as possible is recommended for the whole family, but small children in particular.
INVEST IN ORGANIC SUNCREAM Less chemicals penetrating the skin, with the same level of protection.
USE FACTOR 30 Factor 30 has been shown to be almost as protective as factor 50, to within a few percent, when applied correctly. Follow manufacturer instructions and apply sufficient amounts, frequently. Not applying enough reduces the protection factor significantly and many experts believe that t-shirts, with a sun protection factor of around 5, are offering most people more protection than their sun creams even at factors as high as 100, due to misapplication.
STICK TO THE SHADE Not just during the midday sun. It is always important when the weather is hot to take the sun in short bursts to avoid damage to the skin and heat exhaustion.
STAY HYDRATED Water is not always hydrating enough in itself – a sweating body requires salts and sugars in order to be fully hydrated so juicy fruits and vegetables and smoothies are a must for hot weather. Enjoy some salad with your BBQ.