HSE advises Be SunSmart and protect children’s skin

Sunsmart campaign

As summer holidays start for school children, the HSE National Cancer Control Programme in collaboration with Healthy Ireland and cross-sectoral partners are reminding parents and carers to be SunSmart and protect children’s skin during the summer holidays.

Playing and spending time outdoors is great for children. Protecting children’s skin from the sun when outside reduces their risk of skin cancer in later life.

According to Dr Triona McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, HSE National Cancer Control Programme, “Children’s skin is very sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun which causes sunburn. Sunburn during childhood increases the risk of getting skin cancer as an adult. If your child is badly sunburned more than 3 times before the age of 20, they more than double their risk of skin cancer as an adult. Yet, a recent report from the Institute of Public Health in Ireland found that nearly 90% of 10 to 17 year olds said they have experienced sunburn in their lifetime.”

In Ireland, UV from the sun is strongest from April to September between 11am-3pm, even when it is cloudy. 

Protect yourself and your children by being SunSmart as part of your daily routine from April – September, even when it is cloudy:

  • Slip clothing on children that covers skin such as long sleeves, collared t-shirts;
  • Slop on sunscreen on exposed areas, using factor 50+ for children;
  • Slap on a wide-brimmed hat;
  • Seek shade – Sit in cover of trees to avoid direct sunlight and use a sunshade on your buggy or pram. Keep babies and children out of direct sunlight.
  • Slide on sunglasses to protect their eyes

Dr McCarthy also says, “It is better to protect babies up to 6 months old from sunlight by using shade and clothing rather than sunscreen. You may choose to use sunscreen sometimes on small parts of your baby’s skin. If you do, choose a sensitive sunscreen specifically for babies or toddlers.  For children up to 1 year old, it is best to keep them in the shade and wear clothing that covers their skin when outdoors.”

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Ireland with over 13,000 diagnosed annually, yet is largely preventable by protecting skin from UV radiation from the sun or artificial sources such as sunbeds.  The National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan 2019-2022 provides information about how we are working to reduce skin cancer in Ireland. 

For more information on how to protect children’s skin you can find the Healthy Ireland SunSmart resources at the SunSmart hub at www.hse.ie/sunsmart.

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