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Sun safety for babies and children

Making sure children are kept safe in the sun and heat. What kind of suncream to apply and how often.

Keeping your child safe from sun rays

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.

Preventing 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 light 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.

To best prevent UV damage and sunburn you and your child should:

  • seek shade
  • cover up with clothing
  • use sunscreen

You can find out more information from the Irish Cancer Society's SunSmart Code

Staying in the shade

Keep babies and young children in the shade and out of direct sunlight. 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.

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 and necks from the sun. Hats with neck flaps at the back can also help protect your child's neck.

If your child is going to swim, consider swimwear that covers their shoulders and back.

Sunglasses

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.

baby-with-wraparound-sunglasses
Baby with wraparound sunglasses

Sunscreen

You should use sunscreen or sun cream that:

  • has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 50 or higher
  • protects against both types of UV rays in sunlight, 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.

uva_starrating
UVA star rating
uva
UVA symbol

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.

No sunscreen can provide 100% protection. Use it with other protective measures, such as clothing and shade.

Putting on sunscreen

Cover exposed parts of children's skin with sun cream. Don’t forget to 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.

Be a good role model. Let your child see you applying sunscreen to yourself and being safe in the sun.

Reapplying sunscreen

Reapply it every 2 hours while your child is outside. Reapply during and after 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. Apply small amounts of sunscreen to their exposed skin.

For babies aged 6 to 12 months, apply generous amounts of sunscreen and reapply every 2 hours.

Tanning

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.

Read information from the Irish Cancer Society on how to keep your children safe in the sun

Vitamin D

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.

Because of this, all children under five are advised to take vitamin D supplements.

Related topic

Read more about why babies and children need vitamin D

Treating sunburn - babies and children

Children can get sunburnt very quickly. Their skin will become red, hot and sore. It can flake and peel after a few days.

There are some things you can do to help them feel more comfortable.

  1. Bring them into the shade.
  2. Give them plenty of cold water to drink. This will help them to cool down. It will also keep them hydrated.
  3. Cool their skin using facecloths soaked in cool water. You can also put them in cool bath or shower but make sure they don’t get too cold.
  4. Aftersun spray with aloe vera might help soothe their skin.
  5. If they are uncomfortable, you can give them children’s infant paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always read the label before giving medicine to your child.

When to get medical help from your GP

  • Your baby has sunburn.
  • Your child is in a lot of pain.
  • Your child has blisters or swelling in their skin.
  • They have any signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
  • Their temperature is over 38°C after cooling their skin.
  • You are worried.

Protecting your child from heat

Children don't sweat as much as adults. So they find it harder to stay cool. When its hot, you should make sure that babies and children drink enough fluids.

Heat exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is an illness that can happen in the heat.

Your child could get heat exhaustion if they become too hot and if they are not drinking enough fluids.

Heat exhaustion can turn into heatstroke if the body cannot cool down within 30 minutes.

If heat exhaustion turns into heatstroke your child will need to be treated as an emergency.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke is a life-threatening medical emergency.

Your child can get heatstroke if they are not able to cool their body down. Their body can get hotter and hotter. This causes their temperature to rise.

In severe cases this can cause brain damage. If your child has heatstroke they need to get treatment quickly. Treatment will help to bring their temperature down.

Children's bodies heat up much faster than adults' bodies. This is why children are more at risk of heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke can happen indoors as well as outdoors. Any environment that is too warm can lead to these conditions, including in a car or near a window on a hot day.

Call an ambulance (999 or 112) if your child has one or more of the signs of heatstroke

Never leave a child in a car

A parked car can heat up by at least 10°C in just 10 minutes. Opening the window of a parked car does not help keep the inside of a car cool enough. Never leave a child in a car.

Internal organs start to shut down when the body's temperature reaches 40°C. Death can occur when it reaches 41.7°C.

Signs of heat exhaustion

The signs of heat exhaustion in children can include:

  • intense thirst
  • weakness or fainting
  • cramps in the arms, legs or stomach
  • no appetite, feeling sick or vomiting
  • irritability or being cranky
  • headache
  • sweating a lot
  • pale clammy skin
  • temperature of more than 38 degrees (but less than 40 degrees)

If your child has heat exhaustion

If you think your child may be suffering from heat exhaustion you should:

  • get them to rest in a cool place, ideally in a room with air conditioning, or at least somewhere that is in the shade
  • give them plenty of fluids to drink. This should either be water or a rehydration drink such as a sports drink. Avoid alcohol or caffeine as this can increase dehydration
  • cool their skin with cold water

When to call an ambulance

Call an ambulance (999 or 112) if your child has one or more of the following signs of heatstroke:

  • They are no better 30 minutes after being treated for heat exhaustion.
  • Hot and dry feeling.
  • Your child isn't sweating even though they are too hot.
  • Severe headache.
  • Temperature of 40 degrees Celsius or above
  • Rapid breathing or being short of breath
  • Confusion
  • Has a fit (seizure)
  • Loses consciousness
  • Is unresponsive

While you wait for help to arrive there are a few things you can do:

  1. Bring your child indoors if possible, or into the shade, away from the heat.
  2. Undress your child and sponge their skin with cool water.
  3. If your child is awake and acting normally, get them to drink a cold drink. If they are not fully awake or if they are very drowsy, do not try to force them to drink.

Related topic

When to call 112 or 999

Preventing heat exhaustion and heatstroke

To help prevent heat exhaustion and heat stroke, make sure your child:

  • drinks plenty of cold drinks, especially when exercising
  • takes cool baths or showers
  • wears light-coloured and loose clothing - sprinkle water over skin or clothes
  • is in the shade from the sun between 11am to 3pm

Related Content

Page last reviewed: 26/03/2019
Next review due: 26/03/2022