What impact can Ultraviolet (UV) rays have on a child’s skin? Many are wary of the risks that UV rays pose, however it has been suggested that if exposure is minimal and controlled, these rays can stimulate a child’s metabolism, increase oxygen levels in the cells and boost the immune system.
Professor Andrew Wright, Consultant Dermatologist at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust reaffirms this: “15-20 minutes of unprotected sun exposure, without skin reddening or burning, per day should be sufficient for most people to produce the required Vitamin D level”. It is crucial that those responsible for protecting children understand when UV protection is necessary, and for exposure to be controlled.
There are many misconceptions around the sun and UV rays which must be deconstructed. UV rays are not affected by sunlight or temperature, and can’t be seen or felt, meaning the sun may not be blazing, and it might not be blisteringly hot – but protection is still required.
Sun exposure in the first 15 years of life can contribute significantly to the lifetime risks of skin cancer. This is unsurprising, as children and young adults spend at least 1.5 hours a day outside per school day, more if involved in sport. This time spent outside can be harmful for pupils. It has been estimated that that 40% of school children have arrived home with sunburn sustained from school.
Instilling the benefits of being sun safe at school in children is crucial. Educating pupils from a young age is likely to make being safe in the sun a lifetime habit. If you teach a child when they are at nursery or school about the risk that the sun poses and how they can look after their skin, it is likely that this will influence how effectively they protect their skin later in life.
Who is responsible?
Educational establishments must provide a Duty of Care to the pupils under their supervision in all areas, including skin safety. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines for skin cancer prevention recommend that schools “develop, implement and monitor a specially tailored policy to ensure people are protected as much as possible”.
Different approaches should be taken for different age groups. For primary school children it is essential that they are taught what UV rays are in a fun and interactive way, and that they understand the importance of being safe in the sun. For older children in secondary school and young adults in college or university, the emphasis should instead be placed on combatting the stigma attached to being sun safe.
Effectively minimising the risk of skin cancer in schools is a two-pronged attack which should consist of the appropriate products and the right educational materials. Protection is required when the UV Index is three or above.
When it comes to choosing an effective solution for school children, it is crucial that schools choose a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen which provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays. With regards to application, it is recommended that at least one teaspoon of sunscreen must be applied to each child’s arm, leg, front of body, back of body and face (including ears and neck). Where possible, it should be applied to clean, dry skin 15-30 minutes before the initial exposure, and reapplied liberally every two to three hours. For children and young adults, it is also crucial that the sunscreen chosen is both water and sweat-resistant to ensure that they remain protected at school.
It is also recommended that a high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is used. Sunscreens with a lower SPF such as SPF15 will only be able to filter out 93% of incoming UVB rays, whereas SPF30 and SPF50 sunscreens are able to filter out 97% and 98% of all incoming rays respectively.
Effective education on the issue of sun safety is also essential, and it is something which can be taught in the classroom, and at home. It is advised that as part of a school’s duty of care, they should create a sun safe policy and communicate it effectively to parents, before conducting classes on the topic of sun safety.
By providing educational establishments with high-quality sunscreens and the effective resources to learn about UV protection in a fun and informative way, it will ensure that children and young adults are healthier, happier and will have minimised their risk of being diagnosed with skin cancer.
 Professor Andrew Wright, Consultant Dermatologist at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
 Cancer Research UK
 British Association of Dermatologists