Protection: The sun’s rays are strongest during the hours of 10am to 4pm during which time we should minimise our exposure. Children are most vulnerable to these rays. *Photo supplied
Protection: The sun’s rays are strongest during the hours of 10am to 4pm during which time we should minimise our exposure. Children are most vulnerable to these rays. *Photo supplied

Summer is just around the corner and with it will come the long awaited warm weather. In a matter of weeks, the school year will be over and thousands of children will daily be sent off to summer camps. Children love summer — long sunny days to enjoy swimming, diving, picnics and many other outdoor activities. Parents will likely have been diligent in their camp selection process, checking that the camp personnel and physical base areas are safe for their children. But how many have checked to see if the camp they have chosen has a policy on sun protection?

While the sun is essential for life, our exposure cannot be unlimited as both positive and negative effects occur. With moderate exposure, our bodies produce Vitamin D which is needed for the absorption of calcium and healthy bone growth. However, too much exposure can cause sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer.

The sun emits three harmful types of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) — specifically UVA, UVB and UVC rays. Thankfully, the ozone layer still protects us from UVC rays, the most dangerous type. However, both UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays pass freely through the ozone layer to damage the skin. These rays are strongest during the hours of 10am to 4pm, so we should minimize our exposure during this time. 

Research suggests that 50 per cent of one’s lifetime exposure to UVR occurs by age 18. Children are more vulnerable to these penetrating rays as their skin is more fragile than that of adults and therefore less able to protect itself. Also children have less melanin (pigmentation) in their skin to safeguard it. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one, blistering, sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles the risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, later in life. 

In May 2012, paediatricians at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland sounded the alarm on a disturbing trend — an increase in the number of teenagers and young adults being diagnosed with skin cancer. A burn at age 25 is not as damaging as a burn at the tender age of four so we have a critical window in childhood to minimize life-time risk,” says Bernard Cohen, MD, director of paediatric dermatology at Hopkins Children’s. 

For many years, Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre has provided sun protection information to schools, summer camps, and other organizations. Through the generous sponsorship of Allied World, the Centre has also been able to provide hats to preschool students and to camps which took advantage of our free sun safety training sessions. In addition, sunscreen was provided by the Argus Group. 

More recently, the Centre has offered an accreditation programme which allows camps to earn our ‘Seal of Approval’ for their diligence in carrying out good sun protection policies during their daily operations. The steps to earn accreditation are simple — attend a short training session, create a sun protection policy for your camp that is adhered to by all staff members, and undergo an assessment by a representative from Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre. During the training session, participants learn about the importance of protection and five protective measures to use. At the assessment, the observer looks for critical items, such as children and camp counsellors wearing hats when out in the sun, a schedule for re-applying sunscreen and the provision of shade. Several camps are already proudly advertising that they are “SunSmart accredited”.

Camp operators put in hours of planning to offer activities which will appeal to both parents and students. Help your camp to stand out by demonstrating your commitment to sun protection for the children in your care. If you are interested in attending one of our training sessions, please contact Rhonda Smith-Simmons, Education Officer by email at rsmith.simmons@chc.bm or by telephone 236-0949.

Rhonda Smith-Simmons is education officer at the Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre.