Educating youngsters on how to enjoy the sun (not block it out)

cr-blog-make-friends-with-the-sunI have to state from the outset that I am no doctor, heat or sun specialist or any other ‘guru’ on sun related symptoms relating to humans. I am, however, a caring father of two lovely girls and I like to think that I have a modicum of common sense based on significant experience of living in hot climates.

In the northern hemisphere it is currently summer time and we are experiencing some rather unusually warm weather for these parts 35+C. Nice.

As a kid I grew up in Hong Kong, a place where the weather can be very hot (along with 100% humidity at times…) and my mum, dad, sister and I were frequently outside in the sun enjoying all the trappings of an expatriate lifestyle (pools, beaches, boats, sports…).

My mum was always careful to ensure that we had two things: skin protection and shade. There were no creams or ‘factor 50’ back in the late mid 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s, just oils and after sun lotions. We used these extensively. But most importantly, for every half hour in the sun we were made (my sister and I) to sit in the shade for 20 minutes or so and have a cool drink. In that way, from a very early age, we understood the need to do ‘sun and shade’.  On the occasions where we were out on a boat or something a T-shirt was often worn in addition to oils (although certain types of UV rays will still easily reach your skin through a cotton T-shirt…).  We were taught to appreciate that the sun is good for you.

Fast forward 30 years and I have worked in schools in Europe that have experienced rather hot weather in the summer. But here is the grind. I would frequently receive emails (and see notices on walls) from well meaning colleagues and parents about ‘how’ we should ‘cover up’ to protect themselves from the sun. The common sense side seems to frequently go out of the window and we create by default a culture of ‘sun is bad’. Let me explain.

The four times I have seen someone faint from the heat (two adults and two teenagers) was because they were wearing inappropriate hats; too tightly adjusted thus, preventing blood flow, and with no vent system whatsoever in the ‘cap’ or brim of the hat.

pith helmet

In an ideal world we would all wear the iconic pith helmets as Michael Caine did in Zulu when out in the sun.

A truly brilliant design but in this style/fashion conscious world we live in probably a step too far for many.

Tilley hatIn real world terms the great range of Tilley hats probably come closest to something that works very well but still retains a degree of style.

But will the phenomenon of the baseball cap as a fashion icon ever really be overcome? Even when many insist on wearing it incorrectly even when the sun is in their face (#commonsense…).

hat shade fail

For kids, the ideal ‘hat’ is a visor (like some tennis players use…) but its not cool; the old wives tale of at least 80% of the heat in your body exiting from the top of your head still abounds.In reality, this is not the case at all BUT when you are doing physical activity i.e. playtime/running around, then heat does increase around the head and therefore ‘sealing’ it in with a tight hat is simply not an ideal thing to do. I come back to the tennis player example. How many times do you see tennis players running around in the heat with a hat on? Seldom.

But you do see a few with sun visors…Ana Ivanovic in a white Adidas tennis dress and Adidas visorSo when I see advice given for youngsters to wear baseball hats, often too tightly adjusted and without proper ventilation in the upper brim or ‘cap’, it concerns me. Hair (for those of us that still have it….) is there for a reason – to protect our heads from a myriad of things not least the sun.

The most important provision a school can provide for protection from the sun is shade – so kids (and staff) can get relief when they need it or are directed to do so.


Sunblock’s and 50% UV protection cream also alarm me. Your body needs vitamin D to survive, and the earlier you educate youngsters on how to use the sun as part of a healthy lifestyle is crucial. Skin protection is of course very important, but don’t block your skin and pores with greasy ‘paint like’ blocks.

Get professional advice if needed but a good waterproof protection oil/cream from an early age with appropriate UVA and UVB filters will help a youngsters skin acclimatize and adapt to having the sun on them for short periods safely. So two things to be aware of:

  1. Exposing the body (not just your face) to sun is a good thing in moderation BUT you must adhere to that ‘sun and shade’ principle I mentioned earlier (along with regular hydration).
  1. Hats and sunblock’s are not the simple answer, and in many ways are often incorrectly used. They can cause more problems than good if used inappropriately

Bottom line – education and balance is key. Sensible behavior is vital so that your body gets the Vitamin D it needs, whilst remaining protected, to help contribute to a healthy and lengthy life.

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