Some 17% of schoolchildren never use sunscreen

Report shows nearly 90% of young Irish people experience sunburn in their lives

Nearly 90 per cent of Irish young people have experienced sunburn in their lifetime, thereby potentially putting themselves at risk of developing skin cancer, according to a report.

About 74 per cent of 10-17 year olds said they had experienced sunburn at least once in the past year, the report by the Institute of Public Health and NUI Galway found.

The report found eight out of 10 schoolchildren reported wearing sunscreen, while seven out of 10 reported using sunglasses on sunny days.

However, the adoption of other sun protection measures, like covering up, wearing hats and avoiding peak UV hours, was less consistent.


Just 32 per cent of schoolchildren reported that they avoided peak UV hours of the day. About 50 per cent said they wore protective clothing to cover arms and legs when in the sun, while 17 per cent reported never using sunscreen.

Girls were more likely to wear sunscreen, sunglasses and clothes that cover arms and legs as well as avoiding peak UV hours on sunny days. Boys were more likely to wear hats on sunny days.

The report also found 3 per cent of children said they had used a sunbed in the past 12 months. Providing a sunbed service to anyone under the age of 18 has been illegal since 2014 but the report says it is not clear how much under-age use is occurring in commercial premises.

Childhood sunburn, unprotected sun exposure and the use of sunbeds increase the risk of developing skin cancers later in life. Repeated episodes of severe sunburn during childhood doubles the risk of developing melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – in later life.

Focused action

Co-author Dr Helen McAvoy of the Institute of Public Health said the frequency of sunburn found in the report was concerning and showed a need for focused action and research on skin cancer prevention.

“Being outside and keeping active is good for children’s physical and mental health, but they also need to be sun smart. We need to ensure that people are not over exposed to the sun, avoid peak UV hours, use sunscreen, and wear sunglasses, hats, and clothing to cover arms and legs.”

Prof Saoirse Nic Gabhainn, from NUI Galway's Health Promotion Research Centre, said the findings provided a vital insight into children's sun behaviours in Ireland.

“This is the first time that children’s sun behaviours have been comprehensively recorded in Ireland, and it’s clear that this area requires focused development to protect children. This survey data will be important for planning future awareness programmes and targeting resources to those children and families who most need it.”

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.