January is skin cancer awareness month and, as 80% of skin damage occurs before the age of 18, children are at high risk of contracting skin disease.
Unprotected sun exposure can lead to skin cancer, which is a serious threat to children. The immediate effects might be painful sunburn, but later in life they may develop skin cancer.
Parents and teachers have an important role to play by promoting a positive attitude about skin protection. They should ensure that children in their care take precautions against the harmful effects of the sun.
The Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa) recommends that schools implement a sun protection programme in consultation with the school community which:
- Provides effective educational programmes on sun sense and preventative measures;
- Maximises the use of available shade for outdoor activities;
- Provides flexible planning of activities to reduce time spent by learners in the sun between 10am and 3pm;
- Includes shade tree planting and caring programmes;
- Considers sun protection when determining or reviewing school uniform designs;
- Requires that learners wear protective clothing, including appropriate hats, when in the sun during the school day;
- Encourages the use of an SPF 15+ broad-spectrum sunscreen on uncovered areas of the skin, such as the face and the back of the hands;
- Promotes the importance of parents, teachers and voluntary helpers as role models for learners in relation to sun protection strategies; and
- Informs parents during learner enrolment of the school’s skin protection policy.
Because school hours fall predominantly during the high-risk period of the day, learners should be encouraged to wear hats and protective clothing while outdoors, particularly during breaks when they are doing physical education or playing sport.
Schools should also:
- Recommend broad-brimmed hats that provide protection for the face, neck and ears;
- Consider a hat as part of the school uniform;
- Encourage wearing a hat and the use of other sun protection during breaks, lunchtime, outdoor physical education and during sporting events and other outdoor activities;
- Recommend clothing made of a tight-weave material with long sleeves and collars;
- Promote the use of a broad-spectrum SPF 15+ sunscreen;
- Educate learners on the correct application of sunscreen products;
- Educate learners on the correct storage of sunscreen products;
- Hold outdoor assemblies under shade during summer;
- Maximise the use of indoor and shaded facilities and plan lessons outside of the high-risk UV times;
- Apply the sun protection policy to the swimming programme;
- Ensure suitable hats, clothing and sunscreen are used for all camps and excursions;
- Ensure these items are listed on the parent “permission” form;
- Ensure teachers and parents reinforce the policy by following the same rules; and
- Ensure that learners who are not adequately protected participate in activies out of the sun.
For more information Cansa can be contacted on 011 616 7662 or by logging on to www.cansa.org.za