Sun Protection Advice for Children and Babies

Taking basic precautions to protect babies and children from the sun is important. 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.

Sun protection advice for infants under 6 months

Sunscreen application is best avoided in infants less than 6 months of age as babies’ skin is thinner than that of adults, and it can absorb the UV-active ingredients in sunscreen more easily. Also, infants have a high surface-area to body-weight ratio compared to older children and adults. Both these factors mean that a baby’s exposure to the chemicals in sunscreens is greater, 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. This is especially important around the mid-part of the day when UV radiation is most intense. It is preferable to make use of clothing and shade but if there’s no way to keep a young infant out of the sun, applying high SPF sunscreen to small areas such as the cheeks and back of the hands is acceptable. Remember that no sunscreen can provide 100 per cent protection from the sun, so this should never be solely relied on.

Sun protection advice for toddlers and children

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 in the UK. Don’t forget to provide shade for prams and buggies, if possible.

When choosing a sunscreen, pick one with high SPF and UVA protection that is fragrance-free, to reduce the risk of allergic reactions.

Avoid being overly reliant on ‘extended wear’ sunscreens, sometimes known as ‘once-a-day sunscreens’. Although these 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 recommended, regardless of the type of sunscreen you use. Reapplication of sunscreen is particularly important after exercise, swimming, sweating, or towel-drying.

Sunburn should always be avoided. Sunburn causes permanent skin damage which in turn increases the risk of skin cancer developing. Children with darker skin types can be exposed to more sunlight than those with lighter skin types, but it remains crucial to avoid any sun exposure that might cause even traces of sunburn. More sun advice for people with darker skin types can be found here.

Although avoiding sunburn is the main priority, even a suntan is a sign of skin damage. As the skin is damaged by the sun’s UV rays the skin produces more skin pigment to protect itself.  

10 practical tips for applying sunscreen to children

  • With squirmy children who are eager to get out into the sun, it can be easy to miss patches when 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; giving your kids novel ways to apply their sunscreen will make it more of a fun activity rather than a chore.
  • 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.
  • Applying a second coat of sunscreen about 15 minutes after the first helps cover any patches you may have missed the first time
  • 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.