When can you use sun cream on your baby – expert advice on sun safety
At what age can you start using sunscreen on your baby's skin, 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
If you're planning to take your baby out while the sun is shining – be that on a sunny day at home or a holiday abroad – it’s important to be aware of the recommended advice regarding sun safety for your baby. We answer your questions about keeping your baby safe in the sun, including what age can you safely put sun cream on your baby.
When can you put sun cream on your baby?
It's advised that you only use SPF sun protection on your baby from 6 months onwards. 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 reaction to the lotion and possibly develop rashes.
How do you protect babies under 6 months from the sun?
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 Manager at Cancer Research UK. “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.”
What do you do if your baby has to be in the sun?
While we can take proper precautions to keep babies out of the direct sunlight, 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. Products like specially-designed buggy covers and parasols can be helpful to give you extra protection here, but clothing should be your first port of call. Opt for lightweight, long-legged and long-sleeved clothes and a hat that covers the neck. Child-friendly UV-blocking sunglasses are also helpful.
How often should you apply sun cream?
When your little one is over 6 months, you should stock up on a high SPF sun protection product. It needs a SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 30, but preferably 50, to protect against UVB rays. Look for 4 star or 5 star UVA protection – this protects your child from the risks of exposure to UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the skin. Look out for one that’s ‘reef-safe’, too, meaning it won’t damage plants and animals in the sea.
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. You should re-apply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, or immediately after your child has been in the water, has been sweating, or if it has been rubbed off.
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 during adolescence can increase the risk by up to an astonishing 80%, according to one study.
Should you slowly expose young children to the sun?
In short, no. “Some parents think that they should expose their children to the sun gradually to build up their tolerance to the sun, letting them develop a gradual tan,” explains Dr Howard Stevens, consultant dermatologist and surgeon who practices at the Skin Care Network and multiple hospitals including Hendon Hospital and The Kings Oak Hospital. “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," adds Dr Stevens.
Try to keep children 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.
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 (RCPCH) Officer for Health Improvement Dr Helen Stewart.
"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."
“Paediatricians are keenly aware that extreme heat events have increased in the UK in recent years, with climate change attributed as an underlying cause. RCPCH have compiled a range of guidance for staying safe in hot weather for both health professionals and the public.”
Can babies get heatstroke?
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. Our doctor's guide to spot the signs of heatstroke and what to do tells you what you need to be aware of to help you spot this and treat it quickly.
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.” Protective products with a high SPF should be used on all skin types, not just those prone to burning.
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If I should keep my baby out of the sun, how can they 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 under 5 are advised to take vitamin D supplements, 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.
If you have a baby who is drinking more than 500ml of formula day there's no need to supplement, as all baby formulas are fortified with Vitamin D.
Images: Getty Images
Sally J. Hall has been a parenting and health journalist for over 20 years. She is a former Consumer Editor of Parenting & Birth magazine and former Editor of both Bounty (where she launched the Bounty Baby Product Guide) and Emma’s Diary, as well as contributing to many other parenting magazines and websites.
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