This Should Be Obvious, But FYI, Suntans For Kids Are Not Healthy

NadyaEugene / Shutterstock

A new survey conducted by the Met Office and NHS in England reveals that more parents than you might expect have a very lax attitude when it comes to protecting their kids from the sun.

The results of the survey are horrifying, quite frankly.

As The Guardian reports, 4 out of every 10 parents surveyed think that kids sporting suntans is a sign of good health (yes, for real), and only 56% understood that suntans are a possible sign of skin damage.

And get this: According to a report from the BBC, a whopping 21% of parents reported that they wouldn’t even think to apply sunscreen until their kids actually started to burn.

What in the world? I’m sorry, but this logic defies all sense and is downright dangerous.

But what is probably most shocking is that parents aren’t just thinking about suntans as signs of physical health, but are also equally concerned about suntans as a sign of physical beauty.

For little kids. Come on now, people.

For example, as The Guardian points out, 1 in 20 parents said they would allow their kids to use tanning beds, and taking it a step further, 1 in 10 parents have even recommended that their kids remove their tops to avoid unsightly tan lines.

Ummm…NO. And ewww. This is real life, not a dress rehearsal. And this is about their health, both now and long-term.

Now, to some extent, I can understand why parents believe that sun exposure is healthy. It is, actually, but only in strict moderation.

We’ve all been told about the powers of vitamin D. In fact, the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) points out that most of our children don’t get enough vitamin D, and that sun exposure via the skin is among the best ways for our bodies to absorb and synthesize it.

But the fact is, it only takes 10 to 15 minutes a day for us to get enough direct sunlight for vitamin D exposure. So we are by no means talking about baking in the sun for unlimited amounts of time without any protection. The sun can be very damaging to one’s skin, especially young children’s skin, and the effects can be pretty scary, actually.

“It’s important that parents take extra care to protect their babies and children,” Nigel Acheson, NHS England South region medical director, explains to The Guardian. “Their skin is much more sensitive than adult skin, and damage caused by repeated exposure to UV could lead to skin cancer developing in later life.”

One study found that teenagers who experienced as few as five sunburns were 80% more likely to get skin cancer in the future. Eighty-freaking-percent! And yes, skin cancer can be deadly.

Why on earth would anyone want to take such a risk?

And it’s not just sunburns that are risky. Too much tanning has consequences as well, as the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) points out: “Your child doesn’t actually have to be burned, however, in order to be harmed by the sun. The effects of exposure build over the years, so that even moderate exposure during childhood can contribute to wrinkling, toughening, freckling, and even cancer of the skin in later life.”

There is absolutely no reason on earth that a young child needs to tan and certainly no excuse for allowing your child to get a sunburn. (Yes, I know that it happens sometimes. We’ve all been there. But there is no justification for purposely withholding sun protection, so that your child gets a “healthy glow.”)

So what is the best way to protect your kids from the potentially harmful UV rays that are nearly impossible to stay away from during the summer months? The AAP has some no-nonsense guidelines we should all be aware of.

Here are some highlights:

1. Babies under 6 months should be kept away from direct sunlight. You can apply sunscreen to a baby’s face or other unprotected areas if shade and protective clothing aren’t available or do not provide adequate coverage.

2. Whenever possible, dress your children in protective clothing that covers their body, including lightweight long sleeves and long pants as well as hats.

3. During the summer months, limit your outside time during the hours of 10–4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest and when sun damage is most likely to occur.

4. Have your kids wear sunglasses to protect their eyes from UV waves. They even make sunglasses for babies!

5. Use sunblock at all times (duh, but apparently not all parents follow this rule). Use a “broad spectrum” sunblock with an SPF factor of at least 15 (my kids needs much more than this for full protection).

Most of all, just use a little common sense, and do everything in moderation when it comes to sun exposure. Yes, take your kids outside. Let them enjoy the sun and soak up its rays. Don’t spend the summer worrying yourself to death about skin cancer.

But please don’t play dumb either. Educate yourself, protect your kids’ skin, and don’t buy into the myths that suntanned bodies are in any way necessary or healthy for young kids.