Karen Koster launches skin campaign in partnership with the Irish Cancer Society

Andrea Mara speaks to TV presenter Karen Koster about the importance of using sunscreen — for children and adults — from March or April when UVB rays appear.

Karen Koster and her sons Finn and JJ at the launch of La Roche-Posay's Save Your Skin campaign in partnership with the Irish Cancer Society

BETWEEN applying sun cream to wriggling toddlers and realising there are no lie-ins, holidaying with small kids isn’t always, well, a holiday. 

TV presenter Karen Koster chatted to me recently about what works and what doesn’t, and why she and her husband John Maguire feel holidays are worth the extra effort.

“John and I have always said, ‘Yes, with kids, we know we’re going to have to make compromises, but let’s try to get a holiday if we can.’ 

"Everyone said to us to try to go away before Finn, my eldest, was mobile beca use it would be easier, so we went to Lanzarote when he was three months old. We were so buoyed with the success of that, we went away a couple of times after that as well.”

Finn is now two, and the couple has a second child, one-year-old JJ. They’ve found holidaying with a toddler and a baby a little more difficult, but ultimately worth it.

“Last year we went away with both of them, and of course this time Finn was mobile, but JJ was great, he was still lying down. 

"No matter how difficult the plane journey or how laborious it seems on paper, we’ve always tried to get away to have a good time as a family, and we’ve been lucky we’ve been able to do that.”

I am reminded of my own first holiday with a baby, and the shock realisation that there would be no sleeping in, no sunbathing, and fewer nights out. I asked Karen if she had a similar experience?

“Yeah, there are no lie-ins — you’re going ‘Hang on a second, the kids are up at 6.30am.’ And when you’re in a little apartment, it’s too small for even one person to have a lie-in while the other gets up. You’re all on top of each other anyway.

“But what I did love was when Finn was young enough to sleep anywhere and he’d nap while we had lunch and wine. It’s great when they’re young enough to sleep in the buggy — you can stay out a bit later. 

"Now we’re more restricted because there’s a set bedtime and we’re always back at base by eight o’clock. But we’re figuring it out as we go — like now we know we need a separate room in the hotel so we can watch a bit of TV or sit out on the balcony when the boys go to bed.”

The other big challenge is the sun — much loved by most of us before we have kids, it becomes a double-edged sword when we become parents. Keeping kids safe from burning is paramount, but applying sun cream is no easy feat.

Karen, who recently launched La Roche Posay’s Save Your Skin campaign in partnership with the Irish Cancer Society, says she’s finding it somewhat more manageable than it used to be.

“It’s easier now because I can bribe Finn — I can say: ‘Let me put this sun cream on and then we can go to the playground’.

“I also find using one that you can put on wet skin is great — so when they get out of the pool you don’t have to dry them off .”

She sees sun safety as critical and starts carrying sun cream in her bag from March or April onwards.

“I’m super vigilant — Finn is very fair, he’s my strawberry blond, so I just don’t let him get burnt. It’s never happened, but even if I see him reddening at all, I’m straight out with the sun cream. 

"There’s nothing like the guilt you feel as a parent because, of course, it’s totally on you if they get burnt. Even at this time of year, I’d always put a bit on their faces and I put a cap on JJ.”

In fact, from April onwards, we should all be applying sunscreen — to ourselves and to our children — says Dr Niki Ralph, consultant dermatologist with La Roche Posay. 

“In Ireland, we have UVB rays from about April to October — so we have UVB radiation now, even if it’s cold. We don’t need the high temperatures — it doesn’t have to be 28 degrees, it’s just about the time of year. 

"Also, it comes through the clouds. So yes, I would recommend sunscreen at this time of year.”

Babies are an exception to this advice because sunscreen is not licenced for children under six months, says Dr Ralph.

“You shouldn’t be exposing them to sunlight at all — keep them in the shade. And for buggies, you can buy a UPF breathable cover that you drape over the child.”

She also advises covering children well while they’re in the water. 

“I’d suggest the top-to-toe swimsuits and the hats that come down over the neck. After that, it’s just their hands and feet that are exposed. And when they come out of the water, you do need to re-apply sunscreen.”

Skin cancer remains the most common cancer in Ireland with approximately 10,000 cases diagnosed each year, so protecting ourselves and our children seems like a no-brainer, yet many of us don’t think of it in what we see as the cool Irish climate.

“I always carry sun cream in my handbag now,” says Karen.

“If I don’t have sun cream on me, I’ll borrow some from another mum at the playground — everyone’s like ‘Of course, of course!’ — it’s such a mum thing!”

How to keep your child safe in the sun:

Don’t be fooled by our low temperatures in Ireland — it’s not about heat, it’s about time of year.

Don’t put sun-screen on babies under six months of age — keep them in the shade or use a UPF breathable buggy cover.

Do apply sun-screen to your children every day from April to October.

Do use protection even when it’s cloudy because the sun’s harmful rays come through clouds.

Do put sun-screen in your changing bag or handbag so you have it with you at all times.

Do keep children covered up on holidays with top-to-toe swimsuits and hats that come down over their necks.

Do reapply sun-screen when children come out of the pool.

Do bear in mind the statistics — just five sunburns before the age of 20 can increase the risk of melanoma by up to 80% according to skincancer.org and there are around 10,000 cases of skin cancer diagnosed in Ireland each year.

Do follow the Irish Cancer Society Sun Smart Code: Seek shade between 11am and 3pm; cover up by wearing a hat, a shirt with a collar and long shorts, and put on sunscreen with SPF30 or higher.

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