Frequently Asked Questions
Q. When is sun protection actually recommended in Canberra?
A combination of the 5 sun protection measures is recommended when daily UV levels reach 3 and above. So, depending on your geographical location your sun protection times may differ throughout the day and year. In Canberra daily UV levels reach 3 and above for part or most of each day between August and May. Sun protection is generally not recommended around the June and July period, unless near highly reflective surfaces, in alpine regions or spending extended time outdoors.
The best way to know when sun protection is and is not really necessary is to view the daily SunSmart UV Index for your city or town. When daily UV levels are forecast to reach 3 and above the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) will issue a SunSmart UV Alert for your city or town which signals the time of the day when sun protection will be recommended as UV levels will be strong enough to damage unprotected skin (and eyes).
Q. Can our service still be awarded ‘SunSmart status’ even if we continue to implement sun protection all year round?
No, not really. Current best practice is to adopt a combination of the 5 sun protection measures when UV levels are strong enough to damage unprotected skin and eyes-ie when UV levels reach 3 and above.
Effective sun protection practices (ie Being SunSmart) will not only reduce a child’s long term risk of skin and eye damage but should also ensure adequate vitamin D levels from the sun’s ultraviolet B radiation are maintained to allow for healthy bone and muscle development and maintenance, especially during the winter period when UV levels are low.
Note: Services that decide to continue with ‘all year’ sun protection are still encouraged to 'participate' in the program but will not be awarded a recognised ‘SunSmart status’ until they have updated their policy implementation period to meet national SunSmart standards.
Q. Isn’t it too confusing for children to take hats off during the June and July period?
No, it should not be. Being SunSmart is about being 'smart' when in the 'sun' and staff can implement affective ways to do this, ie exchanging hats for beanies when UV levels are 'low' in winter etc
It is also nice for parents, carers and staff to know that sun protection is not always necessary just because the sun is out and that there are times when you can safely spend time enjoying the sun without increasing your risk of skin cancer.This is a good time to explain to children what being SunSmart means?
A balance between too much and too little sun is important to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. It is also a good opportunity for your service to reinforce positive sun protection behaviour when UV levels start to rise in Canberra- so around the beginning of August is a great time to once again remind parents and staff about the importance of sun protection and what is expected at your service.
A good slogan and a simple reminder that Canberra schools and services can adopt into their calendar of events is:
“The Beginning of August is Hats ON Again for All of Us”
“The End of May is Hats OFF Day”
Q. Do children really need to remain inside between 10am and 3pm ALL year round?
No, ACT early childhood services should always aim to take care when spending time outdoors when UV levels are 3 and above.
However as UV levels become more intense during the daylight saving/summer period of the year, Canberra childhood services should be aiming to at least minimise outdoor activities as much as reasonably practicable between the 'peak UV period' (ie between 11am and 3pm). If you are outdoors during this period then minimise the time, be SunSmart and always seek shade.
Remember children need to be active everyday, and getting outdoors to acheive this is fine, just remember to be SunSmart and take that extra care when UV levels are at their peak.
Q. What does it mean to “minimise” time outdoors between 11am and 3pm during daylight saving time?
During the daylight saving/summer time of the year (around October to March in Canberra) daily UV levels between 11am and 3pm will generally be HIGH to EXTREME and the potential to cause skin damage will be greatly increased during this period. Whilst it is best to try to avoid outdoor activities during this period if possible, we do recognise that early childhood services have to manage a wide range of needs for the children in their care. Therefore, it is safer to at least minimise both the frequency (how often you go outside) and duration (how long you stay outside) of outdoor activities and events during this strong UV period of the year.
Q. Can we spend more time outside IF we have good shade?
The short answer is NO, especially during summer. Well designed shade (natural or constructed) is one of the most effective ways to reduce direct exposure to the sun’s UV radiation. However, even with good shade children can still be exposed to direct and indirect UV radiation because:
- They are active and move in and out of shade
- UV radiation can reflect in from the side, or from surfaces and walls, for example sandpits are highly reflective
- Even the best shade cannot block out 100% UV radiation.
Remember shade is just one component of your service’s comprehensive sun protection strategy.
Q. How do I know if the children are getting enough Vitamin D?
Vitamin D, which is needed to develop and maintain strong and healthy bones is made in the body when the skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UVB). Almost all vitamin D comes from the sun’s UVR. A small amount of vitamin D can be obtained from some foods, such as fish, meat and eggs, but usually this is not enough to maintain optimal health.
In Australia most children should receive enough UVB to maintain adequate vitamin D levels through the 'incidental' sun exposure they receive during their day-to-day outdoor activities. Plus children are active and tend to spend time outdoors every day playing- so even being SunSmart they are going to maintain their vitamin D levels.
Regular use of sunscreen when UV levels are 3 and above does not greatly decrease vitamin D levels over time.
Children who may be at risk of low vitamin D levels include those with mothers who have low levels, children with naturally dark skin who require more UV exposure to produce adequate vitamin D levels as the pigment in their skin reduces UV penetration, or those children who cover their faces and bodies for cultural or religious reasons.
Q. What about dark skinned children at our service?
Children at childcare services usually spend at least a total of 60-90 minutes outdoors during recess and lunch time each day. Given that greater sun exposure time is needed for people with very dark skin to produce adequate vitamin D levels, it is important for these children to have some sun on their skin during these periods. Whilst all children need to take care in the sun, children with very dark skin do not normally need to apply sunscreen because of their high level of melanin. This is a decision for their families to make. We do recommend that these children wear a hat (and sunglasses) to protect their eyes and face.
Q. Do dark skinned children need to worry about sun exposure?
Yes, care still needs to be taken in the sun. Even though the incidence of skin cancer is lower amongst naturally very dark-skinned people, skin cancers that do occur are often detected at a later, and far more dangerous stage.
Sun exposure can also cause damage to the eyes, such as contributing to the development of cataracts.
Cataracts have blinded around 16 million people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, up to 20% of these may have been caused or enhanced by sun exposure, especially in countries close to the equator, such as India, Pakistan and parts of Africa etc.
High levels of UV radiation have also been linked to harmful effects on the immune system.
Q. Do children with very fair skin need more protection?
Yes, skin type is genetically determined and ranges from fair to dark (Type 1 to 6 skin). Children with very fair or fair skin that burns easily have a tendency to freckle and tan poorly or not at all. This is because skin that is white, fair or pale has little melanin. Melanin is the brown/black pigment that gives skin its colour which works as a 'natural' defence mechanism to protect the body from over-exposure to UV radiation. When skin is exposed to UV radiation, melanin reacts by becoming darker and giving skin a 'tanned' appearance.
Over-exposure to UV radiation can damage all skin types, including olive and dark skins and those that tan easily. However, the risk of long term skin damage, sunburn and skin cancer is highest amongst people with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue or green eyes.
Sunburn, especially during childhood and adolescence, is a significant risk factor for melanoma and other common skin cancers. It is also important to protect fair skin children from cumulative, long term exposure to UV radiation and never to rely on just sunscreen.
Q. Are sunglasses enforced in childcare services with a Cancer Council SunSmart status?
No, however children who do choose to wear sunnies should be encouraged by staff, carers and parents in these services. Quality wrap-around, close fitting sunglasses that meet AS 1067 (Cat 2,3 or4) will offer best protection and when worn with a suitable hat can reduce UVR exposure to the eyes by up to 98%.
Cancer Council understands that the majority of young children may be reluctant to wear sunglasses, however keep in mind that children do mimic their parent’s (and adult) behaviour and therefore should be encouraged from a young age to slide on some sunnies when heading outdoors.
Q. What about babies and sun protection?
Infants and babies (say under 12 months) should not be purposely exposed to the direct sunlight (direct UVR) when UV levels reach 3 and above. So always aim to seek out adequate shade when spending time outdoors during this period. When UV levels reach 3 and above adopt a combination of sun protection measures to protect your baby- Be SunSmart.
With regard to sunscreen, an SPF30+ broad spectrum and water resistant sunscreen may be used on small areas of skin that is not already covered by clothing ie feet and hands etc, when direct UV exposure is unavoidable.
During the winter period in Canberra (around June and July) UV levels are 'low' each day (under 3) and sun protection behaviour can be "relaxed", this will assist in the maintenance of your baby's vitamin D levels over the winter period. However if spending time outdoors during this 'low' UV period then it is a good idea to minimise your baby's direct UV exposure by wearing sensible clothing and a hat and seeking out some shade.
When babies are taking part in outdoor activities and events between August and May in Canberra, ensure they are always well protected from the sun's direct ultra violet radiation when levels reach 3 and above. Use the daily SunSmart UV Index to assist you with this.
Q. Isn’t there a connection between sharing hats and head lice?
Not really. Studies have shown that lice need certain environments to stay alive and hats do not provide that environment. There is little risk of cross infection via hats. Some services prefer each child has a hat which stays at the centre / pre-school or family day care home so there is no chance of them forgetting it. For further information visit: www.jcu.edu.au/school/phtm/PHTM/hlice/hlinfo1.htm
Q. How should we apply sunscreen to each child in our service?
Advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) states that children who are able to apply their own sunscreen (under supervision) should be encouraged to do so. This fosters independence and responsibility. For those unable to apply sunscreen, it is recommended that if a carer is doing 'mass sunscreen applying' they should wash their hands before and after the task. They can use a different tissue for each child when applying the sunscreen, however, unless the child (or the carer) has a visible skin disease or a cold / virus, it is not really an infection-control issue. If a child does have a visible skin disease e.g. eczema or open skin wound, or a cold / virus their sunscreen should be applied last using gloves or a tissue.
Services should always apply sunscreen to children before going outside, aim for at least 15 minutes, if this is not always possible then aim to apply sunscreen as close to this recommendation as possible. Sunscreen should be reapplied after two hours, more frequently if swimming, sweating or crying etc. However sunscreen should not be used to extend time spent outdoors, and should always be used in combination with the other sun protection measures.
Q. How much sunscreen should i apply?
Most people apply too little sunscreen. This results is sunscreen users achieving an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) significantly less than is specified on the product label (between 50-80% less). People should apply 2mg of sunscreen to each square centimetre of exposed skin. This equates to approximately 35ml per application for an adult (7 teaspoonfuls = approx 35ml).
For an average toddler this equates to approximately 18ml for a full body application (say 1/2 a teaspoon of sunscreen to each limb, face (neck and ears) etc.
There is no evidence that sunscreen used on small areas of a baby's skin has any harmful effects. No sunscreen provides 100% protection, so babies need to be well protected from UVR by clothing, hats and shade. You only need to use sunscreen on very small areas of baby's exposed skin eg, legs, arms and feet etc
Q. Aren't caps better than nothing?
Not really. Recent Australian research indicates that caps allow up to 100% of ambient UV radiation to reach the ears, sides of the face and back of the neck. These are the most common locations for skin cancers in later life. I will be happy to supply a copy this research to anyone who would like to see it.
* Gies, Peter; Javorniczky, John; Roy, Colin; Henderson, Stuart. Measurements of the UVR Protection Provided by Hats Used at School. Photochemistry and Photobiology. May 1, 2006.
Have not answered your question, please contact Cancer Council ACT on 6257 9999 to speak with the SunSmart Services Coordinator.
Q. Do we need to reapply sunscreen after washing children's faces and hands after eating?
As a precaution it is recommended reapplying sunscreen, even if it was water resistant sunscreen, because if soap is used or a face washer, some sunscreen could be removed, so to ensure you get the stated level of protection it would be best to reapply in these cases.
Q. During some periods of the day between August and May UV levels are under 3 (low) but we still enforce hat wearing and sunscreen etc- is this OK?
Yes, it's not the end of the world. There are times between August and May when daily UV levels are going to be under 3 during the morning and afternoon period in Canberra- ie as we enter and exit the winter period. Whilst services are encouraged to access the SunSmart UV Index to better assist them with actual sun protection times, Cancer Council ACT understands that this strategy for some services may be difficult to communicate with all staff and children each day, and may cause some confusion.
The important thing is that the children in your care (and workers) are well protected from direct UV exposure when spending time outdoors when UV levels are 3 and above- strong enough to damage unprotected skin and eyes. In June and July daily UV levels drop and stay under 3 all day in Canberra so during this period, at least, services should not experience any difficulties communicating this message to workers, children and parents.
Tip: Canberra childcare services can download a 'be SunSmart today from' sign to help them effectively tackle this issue around recommended sun protection times. Simply laminate it and display it, it will need to be updated with the daily sun protection times from the SunSmart UV Index, this is a simple and effective strategy to communicate sun protection times throughout your service each day. Alternatively upload the SunSmart Web Widget to your website (also free).