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When can you use sun cream on your baby – expert advice on sun safety

How to use sunscreen depending on your baby’s age, how should you dress your baby on a hot day and what products can protect your baby’s delicate skin from the sun? Skin experts explain their answers

what age can you put suncream on baby

As the weather gets warmer and we head to the garden, park or beach, it’s important to know the expert advice about sun safety for your baby.

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When can you put sun cream on your baby?

It’s advised that you use sunscreen on your baby from 6 months. Babies under the age of 6 months are advised not to wear sunscreen creams and lotions. This is because their skin is delicate and thinner than an adult’s, meaning they may be more likely to have a skin reaction to the lotion and possibly develop rashes.

The NHS recommends that you keep babies under 6 months out of direct sunlight
Nikki Smith, Senior Health Information Officer at Cancer Research UK

Should you keep babies under 6 months out of the sun?

Yes, the expert advice is to keep young babies out of the sun completely. “The NHS recommends that you keep babies under 6 months out of direct sunlight,” explains Nikki Smith, Senior Health Information Officer at Cancer Research UK. “So, in that case, if they’re covered up in the shade with clothing, a little hat and t-shirt, then they’re not going to need sunscreen at that point.”

Pram with hood and mosquito shade

What do you do if your baby is in the sun?

While we can take precautions to keep babies out of the direct sun, there may be instances when it’s not possible – for example, if your baby is in their pram and you can’t stay in the shade or the pram hood doesn’t fully keep out the sun.

“When it’s not possible to keep your baby out of the sun, sunscreen can also be used, alongside shade and clothing to help protect babies’ skin,” explains Cancer Research UK’s Nikki Smith.

The American Academy of Dermatology agrees, recommending that sun protection products for babies should be thought of as “the last layer of protection”, used only on exposed skin when there is inadequate clothing and shade.

Should you slowly expose young children to the sun?

No. “Some parents think that they should expose their children to the sun gradually to build up their tolerance to the sun and letting them develop a gradual tan,” explains consultant dermatologist and surgeon Dr Howard Stevens. “In fact, as a baby’s skin contains little melanin, the substance that makes us tan, you can actually burn your child’s skin and predispose them to melanoma later in life.

“In addition, as babies’ thermoregulation (the rate at which the body is able to cool itself down) is not fully developed, this can potentially lead to heatstroke.”

If you have very small children, try to keep them in the shade as much as possible and keep them out of the sun during the hottest part of the day between 11am and 3pm, especially if you are on holiday in a warm climate.

For babies 6 months and under you should…

  • Keep them out of the sun completely
  • Do not use sun cream or lotions
  • Use sun shades and UPF-blocking covers
  • If you are in a situation where you can’t keep your baby in the shade – for example, at an outdoor party or wedding, you can use a child-safe sun cream on exposed skin but wash it off as soon as you can

For babies 6 months and over you should…

  • Dress them in light, loose clothing with long legs and sleeves
  • Use a high factor sun cream (preferably UPF 50) with a minimum of 4 or 5 star UVA protection or with the UVA symbol (UVA in a circle). Check that it’s appropriate for a child
  • Use a sunhat to protect their head and neck

How often should you apply sun cream?

When your little one is over 6 months, you should stock up on a high protection sun lotion that’s made especially for children. Look out for one that’s ‘reef-safe’ too, meaning it won’t damage plants and animals in the sea. It needs a SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 30 but preferably 50, and most importantly look for a 4 star or 5 star UVA protection – this protects your child from the risks of exposure to UVA rays.

Putting sunscreen on young child

Even if the bottle claims the sun cream is waterproof, you should re-apply it regularly to cope with sweating and swimming. Make sure you apply it half an hour before going into the sun, to allow for it to be absorbed.

Many parents don’t realise that just one case of sunburn in childhood can mean your little one is at risk of skin cancer in later life. Five instances of sunburn can increase the risk by an astonishing 80%, dermatologists warn.

How can babies get their Vitamin D?

Many of us know that exposing our skin to the sun’s rays can give us a good dose of Vitamin D. For babies, the story is slightly different however, and the NHS suggests that all children should be given a vitamin supplement including Vitamin D, so don’t feel that sun exposure is the way for your little one to get enough of the ‘sunshine vitamin.’ Vitamin drops are available free to parents who qualify for Healthy Start.

How to dress and protect your baby from hot sun outside

Dress your baby in:

  • lightweight, long-legged and long-sleeved clothes and a hat that covers the neck
  • child-friendly UV-blocking sunglasses (but make sure these have protective lenses – never use cheap sunglasses, as they can damage your child’s eyes). Read our 10 of the best baby sunglasses – tried and tested by babies

What if your baby is in a pram or pushchair?

Don’t be tempted to put a blanket over your baby’s pram or buggy to keep out the sun’s rays – this can significantly raise the temperature inside the pushchair. Instead, look for a UV pushchair sunshade that can safely protect your baby.

Cara Sayer is an inventor and entrepreneur who created the original SnoozeShade pushchair sunshade ten years ago. “When I gave birth to my daughter, I was very aware of the risk to her of skin damage from the sun and like most parents, I wanted to protect her as much as I could. After chatting with friends,” she explains, “they encouraged me to create a pram cover that would let my baby sleep when we were out and about during the day but that would also be able to offer sun protection.”

How to avoid the risk of overheating

“The highest risk of overheating is between 11am and 3pm, which is when the sun is at its strongest, explains Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health spokesperson Dr Rahul Chodhari.

“When NHS England has declared a heatwave warning (there are three levels of this), a level-three warning is when we expect significant dehydration.

“That is the time I would say parents need to be careful and avoid going out between 11am and 3pm.”

How to keep your baby safe on the beach

Baby protected from sun crawling on beach

Going to the beach can be a challenge, as children just want to wear swimsuits. Yet, they need most protection at the beach or beside the pool, where there is often little shade to be found. Make sure your cover your baby’s delicate skin with a protective sun suit and a hat with a brim or flap that protects their neck – for example, from sustainable children’s clothing brand Frugi. Plus a long-sleeved, long-legged sun suit can also offer additional protection. “It can also prevent grazes and bruises from rocks and pebbles!” explains Samantha Dark from Frugi.

How to protect your baby in a hot car

Front windshields are covered with a protective UV film but side windows are not. Add a stick-on sunshade and keep your baby covered up with lightweight clothing. If you’re going on a long car journey, take regular breaks, lifting your baby out of their car seat so they don’t get too sweaty or sit in the same position for too long. Make sure they’re regularly hydrated – they may need more milk feeds than usual.

Can babies get heatstroke?

Yes, babies can get heatstroke even when they’re not in the sun. Heatstroke is a serious condition that can cause your baby to become very unwell very quickly. Read our doctor’s guide to spot the signs of heatstroke and what to do.

Baby fair skin in long sleeve top and hat

Are babies with fair skin more likely to get sunburn?

“It’s true that children with fair hair and light-coloured skin will be more at risk of sunburn and melanoma (skin cancer) but all skin colours need to be protected from the sun’s harmful UV rays,” explains consultant dermatologist Dr Stevens. “In fact, if people with darker skins have sun damage, it can often be harder to spot, meaning that treatment may not be given early.” The British Skin Foundation has useful information to help you avoid sun damage for you and your family.

5 products to help protect your baby on hot, sunny days

Sun protection products for babies

SnoozeShade: fitting neatly over your pushchair, this innovative mesh pushchair sunshade blocks 99% of the sun’s UV rays, protecting your little one from every angle. It also creates a dark and stimulus-free environment inside the pushchair, meaning that keeping to your baby’s sleep routine is much easier. There’s also a version for your car seat or travel cot. Available from SnoozeShade and Amazon.

Frugi Sun Protection Suit: Great for playing on the beach or for swimming at the pool, this comfortable sun suit made from recycled plastic bottles and blocks 98% of UVA rays with a UPF of 40+. It’s quick-drying and there’s a cute matching hat to protect your child’s head. Available from Frugi.

Green People Organic Babies Sun Cream: safe both for your baby’s delicate skin and for marine life, this cream protects against 97% of UVB (the rays that cause skin to burn) and protects from UVA (it carries the UVA symbol). It’s organic, suitable for even the most sensitive skin and comes in a recyclable plant-based pack. Available from Green People.

Baby Banz: these baby and toddler sized sunglasses protect your child’s eyes from UVA and UVB rays while also looking cool. They have a handy strap to keep them in place plus a soft nose piece for comfort. Available from John Lewis.

LittleLife Compact Beach Shelter: this little tent offers a safe place to put your baby on the beach or at a festival. It has a UPF rating of 50+and is quick and easy to put up. It can be used as a quiet place for your baby to nap and comes with its own neat carry case.  Available from LittleLife.

About the author – Sally J Hall

Author and parenting health journalist, Sally J Hall has worked on a range of UK baby magazines and websites writing features on pregnancy health, nutrition, fashion and baby product reviews. She is also the author of 2 parenting books – Eco Baby and Plant Based Baby. She lives in North London with her husband and 2 kids.

Images: Getty Images/Product sites

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