Sun Protection Advice for Children & Babies

We have had some beautiful sunny days recently, so we thought it would be useful to set out the importance of protecting your children and babies from the sun.

Studies suggest that approximately one-quarter of the lifetime UV damage suffered by our skin occurs before the age of 20, which increases the risk of skin cancer later in life. Teaching children how to protect themselves in the sun from an early age, will help them develop good habits which can last a lifetime.

For babies under 6 months it is recommended to avoid applying sunscreen, as babies have a higher surface-area to body-weight ratio compared with older children and adults, which means that a baby’s exposure to the chemicals in sunscreens is greater, possibly increasing the risk of an unwanted reaction.  The best approach is to keep infants under 6 months out of direct sun and in the shade as much as possible, not only to reduce their UV exposure but also to reduce the heat load on the baby.

Toddlers and children don’t need to avoid going out in the sun entirely, however there are some simple sun safety tips which are worth keeping in mind.  The first line of defence from the sun should always be clothing and shade, with regularly reapplied sunscreen providing extra protection.

When spending time outdoors, dress children in loose fitting clothing, a broad-brimmed hat which covers the back of the neck and ears, and sunglasses. A ‘legionnaire style’ hat is preferable to a ‘bucket style hat’, as these provide no sun protection for the face. For swimming outdoors, UV protective swimwear is available.

When choosing a sunscreen, pick one with high SPF and UVA protection that is fragrance-free, to reduce the risk of allergic reactions.  Be careful with ‘extended wear’ sunscreens, sometimes known as ‘once-a-day sunscreens’. Although they can be convenient, it is very easy to miss patches of skin, or have the sunscreen rub off, so regular reapplication every two hours is still recommended, regardless of the type of sunscreen you use. Reapplication of sunscreen is particularly important after exercise, swimming, sweating, or towel-drying.

It can be difficult to apply sunscreen on children – as they often don’t like the feel of it, or don’t want to stand still long enough!  Here are a few tips for applying sunscreen:

  • Don’t forget to check easy-to-miss areas such as the ears, tops of feet and hands
  • Get creative with sunscreen application, making it a game will help to hold your child’s attention
  • Trial different types of sunscreen and see which works best for your child. You may find they are more receptive to a sunscreen spray or applying it themselves with a sunscreen stick
  • If you’re going to the beach or the pool, you’ll likely find it much easier to get your child to apply sunscreen before you leave for the day, or else they are likely to want to run straight into the water! This also allows the sunscreen to fully dry and be as effective as possible (application 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure is best)
  • Distracting children whilst applying their sunscreen could be a useful way of getting them protected. Something as simple as putting on their favourite TV programme or song could give you the opportunity to apply sunscreen
  • Try writing a word as you squeeze the sunscreen onto their skin, maybe one letter on each limb, torso etc.
  • Alternatively, ask them to guess what picture you are drawing (a flower, smiley face) as you squeeze it on, and then tell them they can help ‘rub it out’ (i.e. spread it onto the skin)
  • Do a ‘join the dots’ with the sunscreen, letting them spread the cream from one dot to the next.
  • Coloured sunscreen makes it easier to spot if you’ve missed an area when initially applying sunscreen but will then fade.