How to keep children safe in the sun

With the school holidays fast approaching, most children will soon be spending more time outdoors, either here in the UK or on holiday abroad.

But while playing outside in the fresh air can help your child stay fit and active, spending too much time in the sun can be harmful if their skin isn’t protected properly.

According to the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland, most people receive between half and three quarters of their total lifetime sun exposure before they reach the age of 18. That’s because children spend much of their time outdoors – especially during the summer months. But if your child gets sunburn it can increase their risk of skin cancer in later life, claim experts who believe the damage caused by sunburn can take 20 years or more to develop into skin cancer.

Children’s skin is more delicate and sensitive to UV damage than that of adults, which means it’s even more important to take every step possible to prevent them from sunburn – which, in turn, can reduce their risk of developing skin cancer when they’re older.

Sun-safe tips for kids
According to the latest guidelines on sun exposure from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), babies, children and young people are among those who should take extra care to avoid sun-related skin damage and skin cancer. So here are the sun safety precautions you should be taking with your little ones:

  • Babies aged six months or younger burn much faster than adults, and should be kept out of direct sunlight at all times. If you’re out walking with your baby, make sure their pushchair or buggy has a canopy or a parasol to shade them from the sun, or use an elasticated UV sun cover. Also avoid shaded areas where there may be reflected UV light, such as near water, for instance (babies can burn in the shade when the sun is strong).
  • All children and young people should protect their skin from the sun between the months of March and October in the UK, even when it’s cloudy or overcast. Whenever possible, keep them out of the sun between 11am and 3pm, which is when the sun is at its strongest.
  • Use a suncream with a high sun protection factor – the NHS recommends SPF15 or higher – and make sure you apply plenty (use at least half a handful, or approximately 20ml, to cover any exposed parts of your child’s body). Choose a suncream formulated especially for children that also has a high UVA star rating (five stars is the highest).
  • Apply suncream about half an hour before letting children go out in the sun to help the ingredients settle into the skin beforehand. Pay attention to your child’s shoulders and the back of their neck when they’re playing outdoors, as these are the most likely areas for sunburn. Also make sure suncream is applied to their nose, ears, cheeks and the tops of their feet.
  • Be aware of babies having reactions to sunscreen products. Their skin is very sensitive. If they develop a rash or have any other adverse reaction after you’ve applied suncream, stop using it and ask your local pharmacist to recommend an alternative product designed for very sensitive skins. If your child has eczema, your pharmacist can also recommend a sunscreen product containing ingredients that are less likely to cause any irritation.
  • Reapply suncream at least every two hours and get children into the habit of applying it themselves too. Don’t forget to also use sun protection when you’re in your car or if your child is indoors sitting next to a window (in a cafe or restaurant, for instance), as UVA rays can penetrate glass.
  • If your child wants to go swimming, use a waterproof suncream with SPF15 or higher. All suncreams – even waterproof ones – are easily rubbed off when you’re using a towel to dry your child. So apply more suncream after drying them when they come out of the pool or the sea.
  • Cover children up with loose, cotton clothing that protects their bodies, arms, legs and neck. Special sun-safe clothes with UV filters are available, but ordinary clothing made from tightly woven fabric will protect kids too (hold clothes up to the light to see how much sunlight they let through for an idea of how much protection they offer). Also take care with wet clothing, as it may stretch and let more sunlight through compared to when it’s dry. If you do use sun-safe clothing, check that the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) is 15 or higher.
  • Hats are also important, especially when it comes to children, so try to get your child into the habit of wearing one every day during the summer months. Choose a hat with a brim that covers their face and neck (baseball caps don’t provide enough protection as they leave the ears and back of the neck exposed). If your child is a toddler, choose a hat that ties below the chin or has a chin strap (but always keep a check on ties to avoid the risk of choking).
  • Make sure children drink plenty of water when they’re in the sun, as dehydrated skin may be more susceptible to sun damage.
  • Don’t forget to protect children’s eyes too, as damage caused by repeated UV exposure can increase the risk of chronic eye disease later in life. Children should wear sunglasses that block out 99 to 100 percent of UV light. Look for a pair of sunglasses that carry the CE mark (check the label for British Standard BS EN 1836:2005).

Careway pharmacists have lots of advice to help keep your child safe in the sun this summer. To find a Careway pharmacy in your area, use our Pharmacy Finder.