Slapping it on, soaking it up and being safe under the African sun is fast becoming a happy reality for an estimated 60,000 pre-schoolers as sun care manufacturer, Everysun, continues its national roll-out of sunscreen dispensers and sun-safe education programme tailor-made for three to six year olds to co-incide with the onset of summer.
Following the success of a pilot project to 400 schools in Gauteng between September 2009 and March this year, Everysun has started rolling out the project nationally with the aim of reaching 750 school by the end of December. To date 323 schools country-wide have become involved.
The dispenser roll-out will give the schools a free 1 liter dispenser of Everysun sunscreen that will be topped up regularly at cost price to the school, and will be supported by an education programme that includes a colourful live performance developed specifically to educate pre-schoolers about responsible sun care in an entertaining and accessible way by introducing a specially composed sun-safe song.
High rates of skin cancer
According to Dr Dagmar Whitaker, president of the Melanoma Advisory Board of South Africa, 45 new cases of Malignant Melanoma (MM) are diagnosed monthly in Cape Town alone. This translates to 68/100 000 in the Caucasian population putting South Africa ahead of Australia as presenting one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world.
The incidence of other types of skin cancer, in particular Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) which is exclusively cause by the sun has equally reached epidemic proportions. Critical to educating children about sun-safe behavior is that 80% of one's lifetime sun exposure occurs within the first 20 years of life, she says.
"It worried us that our research continues to indicate broad-based ignorance of the importance of routine daily sunscreen among South Africans," says Everysun brand manager, Lelani Rautenbach. "South Africa and Australia which both have extremely high levels of harmful Ultra Violet radiation and share a similar preference for outdoor living, were traditionally the two countries with the highest incidences of Malignant Melanoma in the world by comparison to countries in the Northern Hemisphere where there is more cloud cover and pollution."
"Australia has however significantly reduced the prevalence of this life-threatening condition in recent times through intensive communication about sun-safe behaviour, particularly to early learners, whilst South Africa continues on an upward trajectory," she says.
Growing skin cells
According to Whitaker, the pre-school age group is particularly at risk as their skin cells are actively growing and multiplying making them more vulnerable to both the sunburn caused by UVB rays as well as to the more serious long-term damage that is caused by the particularly harmful UVA rays. And although skin cancer usually manifests itself only later in life some cases of malignant skin cancer have been diagnosed in children as young as five.
"Children love playing outside which is beneficial to the release of Endorphins or 'happy hormones'. However, their accidental sun exposure – the exposure when you think that you are 'just going into the sun quickly so there is no need for sunscreen', can be as high as eleven hours per week if one factors in being outdoors during breaks and without taking exposure during sporting activity into account."
Kids spend time in the sun
In comparison to their older peers, this age group typically also spends more time per day exposed to sun year-round, including in winter when the lower ratio of UVB to UVA rays reduces the risk of burning but not the risk of skin damage caused by UVA, thus in effect "masking" the more serious impact of unprotected sun exposure.
Equally key is to consider that there is no safe skin type says Whitaker.
"Darker skins are better protected but today we are seeing skin cancers even in black skin. The UVA damage from unprotected exposure can also be seen in patchy pigmentation and darkened skin colour. This is aggravated in the presence of inflammatory skin diseases such as acne."
"If we can instill sensible sun protection habits at this young age, we can assume that this early learning will continue to influence their approach to sensible sun care throughout their lives," Whitaker emphasizes.
Everysun Fast Sun-safe Facts
Ultra Violet (UV) radiation is one of the major creators of free radicals during sun exposure. We often under estimate the detrimental effects that free radicals have on the skin. They cause wrinkles by activating thematrix metalloproteinase (MMPs) that break down collagen. Free radicals attack cell membranes, lipids, proteins and all types of cells. They can cause cancer by changing the genetic material, RNA and DNA of the cell. It is for this reason that progressive sun protection manufacturers are developing products with effective amounts of antioxidants.
A sun-safe sunscreen for pre-schoolers should contain at least a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 20 to provide the necessary protection for a one hour unit of sun exposure.
A single sunscreen application cannot provide daylong protection. All sunscreen should be reapplied at least every hour or after swimming and towelling. Areas that need special protection in young children are the face, ears, nose, neck and arms.
Traditional sunscreens contain only UVB filters. The new trend is to include high levels of stable UVA filters. An effective sunscreen should protect against both UVA rays that could cause cellular damage and UVB rays that are responsible for sunburn.
The SPF system quantifies the time that a sunscreen offers the user protection against burning. This depends on both the skin type - your individual minimal erythema dose (MED) - and the Safe Sun Time (SST). The SST is area specific and depends on the measured UV concentration at a given period. For example 10 minutes in Cape Town between November and March would translate to an SPF of 10 increasing the SST to 10 minutes x 10 SPF = 100 minutes (just under 2 hours).
Usage of sunscreen and Vitamin D deficiency are not directly correlated. The main source of Vitamin D comes from food. An area of 10cm squared or the size of the back of one’s hand exposed to the sun for 10 minutes produces sufficient amounts of Vitamin D.
Dark skins are not as susceptible to sunburn but sun exposure without a SPF sunscreen of 20 stimulates uneven pigmentation that is difficult to reverse as well as increased darkening.
For more information see www.everysun.co.za