Sun Awareness

June 8 to 14 is National Sun Awareness Week

With the growing awareness of the effects of global warming, more and more parents have a right to be concerned about protecting their children from ultraviolet radiation, which has been shown to cause cancer. June 8 - 14, 2009, has been set aside as national Sun Awareness Week. In advance of that, would like to remind parents of the damage the sun can cause to skin and eyes.


It is common practice for people to apply sun screen these days. This is most important when it comes to children. Statistics show that for most people, over 80% of their exposure to sunlight comes before the age of 18. Over-exposure to ultra violet radiation (UVR) at an early age can lead to increased risk of cancer at a later age.

Ultraviolet rays come in three broad types, on a spectrum:

  • UVA rays have a longer wavelength and penetrate deepest into the skin. However, they are also thought to be the weakest. UVA rays cause some wrinkling and premature aging of skin and they also contribute to skin cancer.
  • UVB rays, with a shorter wavelength, do not penetrate as deeply into the skin but are most likely to cause sunburn as they most strongly affect the surface of the skin. UVB rays are thought to be the primary cause of sunburn, skin aging, and skin cancer. UVB rays are strongest during the summer months, closer to the equator and in higher altitudes.
  • UVC rays are the most powerful and dangerous but these are ostensively filtered out by the ozone layer and do not reach the earth's surface.

Protecting your children's skin

Sun protection from the very earliest ages is critical to minimizing cancer risks later in life. However, with our increased awareness of the damage of UV rays, a number of precautions are widely thought to reduce the potential harm your children might receive:

  • Fully understand and remain aware of the UV index in your area. You can find this on The Weather Network or on its website,
  • Reduce children's exposure to the sun. The peak hours of sunlight, when potential damage is strongest, are from 10 am to 4 pm on summer days. Obviously, the time from 12 noon until 3 pm is the time you certainly want to expose your children to a minimal amount of sun. Find indoor activities for them and encourage them to remain well protected if they are planning to be outside during these hours.
  • Dress for sun protection. For example, white cotton long sleeve shirts reflect the sun's rays and heat. Properly protective clothing should cover your child's back and neck. A hat is a great idea, and the wider the brim the more protection it will offer. If your children are swimming for a long time, especially during peak sun hours, make sure that they are protected.
  • Use sunscreen properly. Make sure you use a broad spectrum sunscreen (covering the UVA and UVB spectrum) with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. Reapply sunscreen at least every one and a half hours - more, if your child is sweating or playing vigorously. Make sure you are using a waterproof sunscreen for children in the water.

Protecting kids' eyes

Many children like to wear sunglasses (they're "cool," of course). In this case, make sure that their sunglasses offer UV protection and there are brands of sunglasses that offer 100% protection from the UV spectrum. The eyelids are actually one of the most vulnerable areas of skin; ten percent of all skin cancers occur on the eyelids.

A study conducted at the University of Wisconsin showed a strong correlation between time spent outdoors at an early age and the risk of early onset macular degeneration - the leading cause of adult blindness in North America.

If your children are swimming, be sure to encourage them to wear sunglasses or a hat. While sunglasses offer ideal protection, a hat also offers some sun protection. (Bear in mind that a hat does not protect the neck, so slop on the sunblock back there!)

Summer sun and summer camps

When sending a child off to a summer camp, whether that is an overnight camp or a summer day camp, pack lots of sunblock and make sure your child knows the importance of regular application. Inevitably, kids outdoors will catch a lot of sunshine but remind them often of the benefits of sunblock, hats, sunglasses, shade and anything else that will help keep sun damage to a minimum.

All that being said, enjoy the sun as much as you can

This June - and in fact, all summer, of course, Our Kids encourages you to enjoy the warm summer sun as much as you can - within reason. Just be fully aware of its negative side effects, and protecting your children and yourself as much as possible.

Don't forget, of course, that sun damage can also happen in winter, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors in the snow; snow reflects a significant percentage of ambient sunlight (some experts say as high as 80%), so sun damage can be just as bad during winter as during summer.

Helpful links:

2009 National Sun Awareness Week Events Page
American Academy of Dermatology's publication, Sun Protection for Children.
The Canadian Cancer Society's Sun Safety Quiz
The Canadian Dermatology Association's Fact sheet on sun protection (PDF).

Other Sources:

Stephen Brunto et al. A Multidisciplinary Approach Challenging Current Thinking on UV and Glare. 2003. Available online. (Download the PDF)
KJ Cruickshanks, R Klein, BE Klein. "Sunlight and age-related macular degeneration: the Beaver Dam Eye Study." Arch Ophthalmol. 1993: 111(4): 514-518

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