The children and sunscreen study


Mum-applies-sunscreenQueensland has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world.  This is not surprising given we have high levels of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) all year around and a pre-dominantly sun-sensitive population.  Childhood sun exposure is thought to be a key risk factor for skin cancer development.  Therefore, it is important that Queensland children are adequately protected from the sun.

Sunscreen, reportedly children’s preferred method of sun protection, has been found to reduce the risk of some skin cancers, including melanoma.  Sunscreen needs to be applied at the recommended amount of 2mg/cm2 to reach the sun protection factor (SPF). Studies conducted with adults have repeatedly shown that not enough sunscreen is used.  It was not currently known if chidlren applied their sunscreen at an adequate thickness.

The aim of this project was to measure the thickness at which primary school children apply their sunscreen.  Additionally, we aimed to identify a sunscreen dispenser that was most/least suitable for children’s use and an age at which parents may allow children to be responsible for their own applications.


The results of this study show that children (n=87), regardless of age and dispenser type, do not apply enough sunscreen to reach the advertise SPF.  Overall, children applied less than one-quarter of the recommended 2mg/cm2 (median 0.48mg/cm2).  Those in the youngest two grades applied the most sunscreen, although still less than half of the recommended thickness.  Children applied sunscreen at an average thickness of 0.75mg/cm2 when using the pump dispenser, 0.57mg/cm2 when using the squeeze dispenser and 0.22mg/cm2 when using the roll-on dispenser.

Children do not use enough sunscreen to reach the advertised SPF which is likely to lead to an increased level of sun exposure and thus an increased risk of future skin cancer.  We have made recommendations for carers of children, government departments, public health research and health promotion, and industry based on the results of our study.

Perhaps the two most important recommendations at this stage are for carers of children to monitor all children’s sunscreen applications and apply additional amounts when required and for health promotion agencies to continue to advise that sunscreen should be used in conjunction with other sun protection methods (such as sun protective clothing and shade), not as a stand-alone method.