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Preventing sunburn in babies and children

Babies and children have very sensitive skin. Getting sunburnt as a child increases the risk of skin cancer in later life. 

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

If your baby is under 6 months old, you should keep them in the shade. 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
Wraparound sunglasses for children

Sunscreen

You should use sunscreen or sun cream that:

  • has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher
  • 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.

uva
UVA

uva_starrating
UVA star rating

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 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.

Reapplying sunscreen

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. 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

Related Content

page last reviewed: 26/03/2019
next review due: 26/03/2022