It is that time of the year again and I think we can all agree that 2020 was disastrous. Most people feel even more exhausted and burnt-out than they would usually do at this time of the year and the idea of relaxing next to a pool sipping a cocktail and reading a book sounds like pure bliss. With that beautiful picture and the longing that we know it creates, let’s take a moment to talk about sun safety for babies and children.
In principle this sounds like part of the holiday joy, but any mom will know that applying sunscreen to a wriggling toddler is a hazard on its own. Having to get up from where you were relaxing and convincing a child to halt their play and present themselves for a sunscreen top-up always leads to resistance, and it’s tempting to simply let them play a bit longer.
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Sun safety for babies and children – what you need to know
But with climate change and our thinning ozone layer, more and more harmful UV rays are able to reach the earth. These cause DNA damage to human skin cells and are responsible for various types of skin cancers. Sun safety should be one of the main things you focus on in the summer months.
The American Academy of Paediatrics offer the following guidelines for protecting children from the sun.
- Babies younger than 6 months should stay out of the sun altogether. Take along an umbrella or find a spot under a tree.
- Always wear a hat with a rim wide enough to protect the face, ears and neck.
- When possible, dress in cool, comfortable clothing that covers the body, such as lightweight cotton pants, long-sleeved shirts.
- Clothes with a tigher weave protect better than clothes with a looser weave. If you’re not sure how tight a fabric’s weave is, hold it up to see how much light shines through. The less light, the better. Or you can look for protective clothing labeled with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF).
- Limit your sun exposure between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm when UV rays are strongest.
- Wear sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection. Look for child-sized sunglasses with UV protection for your child.
- Remember to set a good example by practicing sun safety yourself.
Sunscreen can be used to prevent damage from UV rays, but you should still follow the above tips. Sunscreen should not be used so that you can stay in the sun for longer, or expose the skin to sun over the heat of the day.
Sunscreen should also be used correctly in order to be effective.
- Pick a ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreen which means that it will protect you from both UVB and UVA rays.
- Choose a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protecting factor). Current research shows that an SPF of 30 should be enough for most people. Although higher SPF sunscreens are now available there is not yet evidence to show whether it offers more protection. It cannot do any harm though, and most kiddie sunscreens are an SPF 50.
- As with all other products, know your ingredients. Sunscreens containing oxybenzone should be avoided as there are concerns over its mild hormonal properties.
- For sensitive areas of the body, such as the nose, cheeks, tops of the ears, and shoulders, choose a sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These products may stay visible on the skin even after you rub them in, and some come in fun colors that children enjoy.
- Make sure that you use enough sunscreen to cover all exposed areas. Rub it in well.
- Put sunscreen on 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. It needs time to absorb into the skin. Applying it before you leave home is often easier than trying to apply it once you have arrived and the opportunity to play or swim is right there.
- Use sunscreen any time you or your child spend time outdoors, not just when you are swimming.
- Remember that you can get sunburn even on cloudy days because up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can get through the clouds. Also, UV rays can bounce back from water, sand, snow, and concrete, so make sure you’re protected.
- Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel. Because most people use too little sunscreen, make sure to apply a generous amount.
Sunscreen for babies
Babies have sensitive skins that may be more prone to irritation from sunscreens. In babies younger than 6 months you will only apply sunscreen to the small areas of the body that cannot be covered by clothing, and only if baby cannot be in the shade.
In older babies, you can apply sunscreen to the whole body, but be careful of the area around their eyes. Should any sunscreen transfer from their hands to their eyes during rubbing, wipe their eyes with a wet cloth. IF irritation occurs, try a different brand that contains zinc oxide, or talk to your doctor.
How to treat sunburn on toddlers and babies
This is an injury like any other, and should never be ignored.
- Make sure that your child takes in enough fluids to prevent dehydration.
- Give your child a cool bath.
- Give pain medication like Paracetamol and Ibuprofen to ease pain and inflammation.
- Only use medicated lotions if prescribed by a medical professional.
- In babies younger than 6 months, always see a doctor.
- Also see a doctor if your child has burn blisters, have severe pain or is running a fever.
- STAY OUT OF THE SUN UNTIL THE SKIN IS FULLY HEALED!
ALSO READ: What to do when your baby has a fever
A last word on Vitamin D in children
With all the focus on preventing sun damage and sun safety in children and babies, let’s take an extra moment to talk about Vitamin D. The human skin manufactures Vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun. Getting 10-30 minutes of no-sunscreen exposure to sunlight over the middle of the day at least twice a week to the face, arms legs or back should be enough for most people to maintain their Vitamin D levels.
With the guidelines on sun exposure, it is clear that this is no longer safe. Very little Vitamin D is absorbed from food sources. For this reason, routine Vitamin D supplementation is recommended for both babies, children and adults.