Babies and children have very sensitive skin. Getting sunburnt as a child increases the risk of skin cancer in later life. There are simple things you can do to reduce this risk and keep children safe in the sun or heat.
Sunburn - babies and children
Sunburn is painful, itchy and uncomfortable. Ultraviolet rays (UV rays) come from the sun and cause sunburn. You should protect your child from sunburn.
Too much exposure to UV rays from sunlight can cause skin cancer. If your child gets sunburnt, this could increase their risk of getting melanoma later on in life. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer.
Sunburn can happen both in Ireland and abroad. About 90% of harmful UV rays can also pass through light cloud, so take care on cloudy days too.
Always protect your child's skin from the sun, especially from April to September in Ireland. This is when sun's UV rays are at their strongest, particularly between 11am and 3pm, even when it is cloudy.
To best prevent UV damage and sunburn you and your child should:
- seek shade
- cover up with clothing
- use sunscreen
Staying in the shade
It is better to protect babies up to 6 months old from sunlight by using shade and clothing rather than sunscreen.
If your baby is under 12 months old, you should keep them in the shade and wear clothing that covers their skin when outdoors. Older children should also be in the shade if possible, but especially between 11am and 3pm. This is when UV rays are at their strongest.
Sit in the cover of trees to avoid direct sunlight and always use a sunshade on your buggy or pram.
Sun protective clothing
You can protect your child’s skin from UV rays by covering it with clothes. You should dress babies in loose-fitting outfits that cover their arms and legs.
Make sure the clothes are made from close-woven material that does not allow sunlight through.
Some fabrics give better UV protection than others:
- Linen, cotton and hemp let less UV rays through.
- Dark clothes block more UV rays than light coloured clothes.
- Clothes labelled 'UPF' block UV rays from passing through.
Babies and children should also wear a hat with a wide brim to protect their faces, ears and necks from the sun. Soft hats are available for babies that allow freedom of movement and easily crease or crumple if they rest their head.
If your child is going to swim, consider swimwear that covers their shoulders and back.
You can also protect your children's eyes from UV rays with sunglasses. It's important that they wear sunglasses that give as close to 100% UV-protection as possible. Wraparound ones are best. Choose sunglasses that meet the I.S. EN 1836 standard.
Too much sun can cause cataracts in later years as an adult. In rare cases, it can also cause cancer in the eye.
Use sunscreen or sun cream that:
- has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 50+ for children
- protects against both the different types of sun's dangerous rays, UVA and UVB
The SPF is how much protection there is against UVB. You should look for one of these symbols on the bottle to check it protects against UVA.
It is very important to choose a sunscreen with a high SPF (50+) as well as high UVA protection (ideally 4 or 5 stars).
Patch test it on your child's skin first. If your child's skin gets irritated, try sunscreen for sensitive skin or try another brand.
Putting on sunscreen
Cover exposed parts of children's skin with sunscreen. Cover all areas, especially the face, ears, neck, nose, lips and tops of the feet. You should do this around 20 minutes before they go out in the sun.
Reapply it every 2 hours and always after playing outdoors or swimming. This includes 'waterproof' and 'water-resistant' sunscreen. Cover all exposed areas.
Sunscreen and babies under 12 months
For babies under 6 months, use clothes to cover up their skin as much as possible. You may choose to use sunscreen sometimes on small parts of baby’s skin. If you do, choose a sunscreen that is for babies such as sensitive or toddler sunscreen.
For babies aged 6 to 12 months, apply generous amounts of sunscreen and reapply every 2 hours.
A tan does not protect against sunburn. A tan is your skin's way of protecting itself against further sun damage. Even when a tan fades, the skin damage caused by the tan never goes away.
Make sure that your child gets enough vitamin D. This is important.
The summer sun on your child's skin is one way of your child getting vitamin D. But it is so important to keep your child's skin safe from the damage that the sun's rays can do.
All children under 5 years of age should take vitamin D supplements during winter. Give them one each day between Halloween (October 31st) and St Patrick's Day (March 17th) each year.
Some babies under 12 months may need to take a vitamin D supplement.