I’ve done too many features on sun damage and malignant melanomas to be lax on it. Cancer Research UK say a childhood sunburn can massively increase the chance of cancer in later life. How could you let them burn for the sake of a few quid on sun-lotion and greasy palms?
However, I just can’t find a suncream that doesn’t turn eight-year-old Billy’s skin into a burning rash of tiny pimples as soon as he heads outdoors.
It’s not like he’s got any other allergies. We’re lucky. No asthma, no hay fever, no food intolerance. Probably because they’ve been brought up in a house that gets vacuumed when the dirt becomes too visible to ignore and dusting only happens on cakes with icing sugar.
We’ve tried for years with a long list of brands, types, concoctions and SPF levels. Every sunscreen, even the organic, anti-allergy, mega-block types don’t do anything but make him miserable and itchy.
School ask that parents suncream their offspring before school on sunny days and they can bring cream to put on themselves. Although Bonnie has to put up with the morning sticky rigmarole of sun lotion and even the older two have to endure their mother dragging them back to apply SPF before they leave the house – very uncool. (They said today they actually don’t mind, having seen friends enduring the agony of a hearty slap when someone sees a pink neck.)
I’ve stopped sending Bill to school pre-sunscreened. I had to apologise and explain to his teacher when he went on a school trip in blazing sunshine last week why he wasn’t armed with the obligatory Factor 30. He’s a fan of hats, has floppy long hair at the moment, will wear a coat even when it’s 25 degrees outside and comes back in the house when the sun gets too much so I’ve not had to worry about sunstroke.
This weekend, with the hot weather making us all expose far more skin than we’re used to, and an overdue all-day trip to the allotment planned, was worried about whether it was better to go with the rash-inducing suncream or leave him without. We decided to run the risk, with the proviso he kept his t-shirt and suncream on at all times.
After a couple of hours he’d abandoned his shirt alongside his bare-chested brothers and Bloke.
When we got home, we checked. Jed had a tiny patch of sunburn on his arm which he’d missed with the cream. Doug, who spent the blazing afternoon in the Franklin’s Gardens stands watching rugby, was burn-free. Bonnie, who had soaked her dress in the water-butt and ran around in her knickers, and a liberal layer of factor-30, was similarly unblemished.
And SPF-free Billy? Not a patch of pink. Completely burn-free.
Perhaps he’s just lucky. I can’t really remember sun-protection being such a massive issue in the 70s and 80s when I was a kid, and my Mum would be horrified that I never used sunscreen over several hot summers growing up on the beaches of North Devon. The first time I ever got sunburn was when I lived in London aged 19. I’ve worn suncream every summer since and made sure the kids have too.
Not putting cream on Billy still makes me paranoid though. Especially when we checked Bloke – who had forgotten to put cream on himself. Lobster pink and stinging, all over his back.