It’s a fact that getting sunburnt as a young child raises the risk of developing the most serious type of skin cancer, melanoma.
“Even when a child’s skin has turned pink and tingly, it’s a sign of cell damage,” says Caroline Cerny, Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart manager.
“Most at risk are fair or red-headed children with blue eyes and freckles, but all children’s skin is more delicate and vulnerable than adult skin and needs special care.”
Know your factors
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. You must use at least SPF 15 on you and your little ones to stop skin from burning, but think about aiming higher.
“Factor 15 will block out 93% of UVB rays, while factor 30 blocks out 96%,” says Caroline. Choose a product that protects against UVA and UVB rays as both can be harmful to your tot’s (and your) skin.
Apply and reapply
One application a day is not enough – you should reapply suncream every two hours, and more if swimming, advises Caroline.
“We recommended specially formulated milder creams for children. Some may come coloured so you can see you’re not missing any bits.” If your child has especially sensitive skin, then an organic, chemical-free suncream could suit her better.
Don’t spare an inch
Apply suncream liberally all over the body. “The amount recommended for adults is roughly a golf ball-sized dollop.
Divide it into three, put one third all over the arms, another over the legs and the final third on the body. That’s roughly about a tablespoonful for each segment,” says Dr Chris Flower, a toxicologist from the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association.
“This amount is likely to be too much for a small child but you must ensure there is total coverage and that nowhere is missed.” Think back of the neck, top of the ears, tootsies and bits where the clothes meet the skin.
Keep baby shady
“Babies under 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight – so put prams in the shade,” says Caroline. Parasols are a key item too, to keep the sun off your little one’s face.
Set an example
Demonstrate the essential safe sun messages to your toddler by practising them yourself. “Wear wide-brimmed hats and suncream, and seek shade during the hottest time of day, between 11am and 3pm,” says Caroline.
Get a UV sunsuit
Little bodies need covering up in the sun. Your best bet is a UV sun suit. These are made from closely woven fabrics, which prevent UV rays from penetrating through to the skin.
The best quality ones will have an SPF 50 mark, which means they block around 98% of harmful UV rays, and most have long arms and legs to protect the entire body. Sunsuits are best in the water, too, as t-shirts will stretch and let in rays when wet.
Be cloud clever
Even on more overcast days, your tot’s skin can burn and up to 80% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can travel through clouds, so slop on the cream even if you can’t see the sun.
“Also be aware of the dangers of reflected UV rays from surfaces like water and sand as your child could burn even when she’s in the shade,” adds Caroline. Your best bet is covering her up well, however sunny it is.
“Sunlight may damage the retina and lens of the eye, risking long-term damage to eyesight so it’s essential to protect children’s eyes in the sunlight,” says Dr Susan Blakeney, optometric adviser, College of Optometrists.
Forget toy sunglasses. “Make sure you buy glasses that have a CE and British Standard marks which mean they’ll offer a safe level of UV protection,” she says.
Ban the burn
If your tot does burn, bathe her skin with cool flannels, apply after-sun or calamine lotion and persuade her to drink fluids, suggests Clive James of St John’s Ambulance. “If the skin is blistered, seek medical advice.”
Cover hot heads
Babies, toddlers and children need sun hats. Choose one with a close weave, as straw hats with holes will let through UV rays. Go for a wide-brimmed style to protect the face and shoulders, or Legionnaire style with a flap at the back to cover the neck area.
“If your child tends to fling her hat off, look for something that can be fastened under the chin,” adds Caroline.
“Offer your child drinks little and often,” says Clive.
“Think about providing extra fluids in the form of fruit or ice lollies too. In older children, tell-tale signs that they’re dehydrated are headaches, dizziness, cramp or tightness in the muscles, dark urine and even confusion.”
Watch the fluids
Signs of dehydration in babies include pale skin and sunken eyes, and the fontanelle (the soft spot on top of baby’s head) can drop. Offering your tiny baby more food on hot days and making sure she’s not overdressed in the sun should keep her happy.
Spot it early
Dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion, where the breathing becomes rapid and shallow.
“Get your child somewhere cool, raise the legs to improve circulation to the brain and give them plenty to drink – an isotonic drink to replace salts is good in these circumstances,” says Clive.
If breathing becomes laboured, or the skin becomes hot, dry and flushed, more serious heatstroke may be imminent and you should call an ambulance.
Linda Mason, 24, from Essex, mum to Ethan, 20 months.
“Ethan used to hate wearing a hat, but every time he threw it off, I persevered. If he still refused, then it was time to go home and stop having fun in the sun. Having worked in children’s nursing and seen the effect of sunburn, I’m taking no chances!”
Angela Watson, 32, from Hartlepool, mum to Mia, 3.
“Mia’s already been to Egypt, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Fiji. She used to hate having her suncream applied, so we used distraction tactics like telling her stories or singing. She also likes putting it on herself so I let her smear some on while I do a proper job and sneak the rest on.”