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Babies and sun protection – the 10 most popular questions from parents

Young toddler at the beach wearing a sun safe hat and shirtSkin cancer is our national cancer, with more than 750,000 diagnoses made in Australia every year.

In fact, two in three Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 70.

While that may feel like light years away for your child, you can start cutting their risk of skin cancer right now, by keeping up good sun protection habits in these critical years of development.

We’ve pulled together some of the most common questions about sun protection for babies to help protect your children’s skin in summer:

1. Is there a difference in the types of sunscreens needed for a baby and an adult?

Baby or toddler sunscreen is just as protective, but gentler on the skin. Babies’ skin is still developing and can be more sensitive, so it may be worth finding a baby/toddler sunscreen for your baby. It’s also a good idea to test sunscreen on a small patch of skin first, to ensure there’s no reaction.

Every member of the family can use this sunscreen – just remember to apply it 20 minutes before you go outdoors and reapply it every two hours.

No matter the age or skin type, always choose a sunscreen that is SPF30 or higher, broad-spectrum and water-resistant.

2. How much sun is too much for my child?

It is recommended that infants under 12 months are not exposed to direct sunlight during the sun protection times, which is whenever the UV level reaches 3 or above. This is because babies’ skin is delicate and can burn easily.

If you do head outside during sun protection times, keep infants well-protected with a combination of clothing, sunscreen, hats, shade and sunglasses and try to avoid taking your child outside in the middle of the day, when UV levels are highest. You might only be outside for 15 minutes, but that’s enough time for skin to be damaged by UV on a fine, summer’s day in Australia.

3. Do I need to worry about sun protection on cold or cloudy days?

UV radiation isn’t like the sun’s warmth, which we feel, and the sun’s light, which we can see. So while a day might be overcast or colder than a usual summer day, it doesn’t mean UV levels won’t be high.

The best way to know when you do and don’t need to protect skin is to check the sun protection times each day – you can do this via the Bureau of Meteorology, SunSmart or your local newspaper’s weather section.

4. How do I make sure my child doesn’t develop a vitamin D deficiency?

The sun is the best natural source of vitamin D, but because babies’ skin is so sensitive, it can be dangerous to expose them directly to the sun (especially in summer when UV is at its peak).

Babies get their initial store of vitamin D from their mothers, so your child will be at risk of a deficiency if you are breastfeeding and have low vitamin D levels yourself. Infant formula in Australia is fortified with vitamin D, so babies fed formula shouldn’t be at risk. If you are concerned about you or your babies’ vitamin D level, speak to your doctor.

5. Can I just keep my child in the shade when we’re outside?

Shade can be an effective sun protection measure but should never be the ONLY method you use because UV can reach the skin via reflections from surfaces, such as sand and water. Combine shade with clothing, sunscreen, hats and sunglasses for good protection and try not to stay out all day − babies and all-day sun is a bad combination.

6. What eyewear, if any, can my baby wear?

Slide on sunglasses, if practical, to protect eyes. Look for sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard 1067:2003 (category 2, 3 or 4) and are a close-fitting, wrap-around style that cover as much of the eye area as possible. Some infant sunglasses have soft elastic to help keep them in place. Avoid toy sunglasses, or those labelled ‘fashion’ sunglasses, which don’t have UV protection.

If you can’t get your child to keep their sunglasses on, get them used to wearing a broad-brimmed hat, which can help reduce UV reaching the eye by as much as 50 per cent.

7. What types of hats are suitable for my baby?

Slap on a broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire-style hat that shades the face, neck, ears and eyes. For babies, choose a fabric that crumples easily when they lay their head down. Many children don’t like to wear hats, so keep up the habit until it becomes part of the routine for going outdoors. Remember that your child will copy those around them and learn by imitation. That’s why it’s also important for you and other adults in their life to model good sun protection, including clothing, hats, sunscreen, shade and sunnies.

8. How can i make the pram and car sun safe ?

Look for a pram with an adjustable hood that can be moved to block out direct sun. Pram shade covers should completely cover the pram and be made of densely woven fabric that combines shade fabric with a mesh section so that the baby can see and have air circulate.

When you’re in the car, use a shade visor or even hang a blanket over the side windows, as these windows don’t block as much UV radiation as your front windshield.

9. Is it OK to treat nappy rash by exposing the skin to sun for a short time?

Exposing your baby to direct sun can put them at high risk of skin damage. For skin affected by nappy rash, recommendations include frequent nappy changing, applying barrier creams to the affected areas and exposing the inflamed area to the open air as much as possible – but not to the direct sun.

10. What should you do if a baby gets sunburnt?

Sunburn can be extremely dangerous for infants, leading to heat stroke and other serious conditions, as well as increasing their risk of skin cancer later in life. If your baby has been sunburnt, see your doctor.

– information supplied by sunsmart.com.au

Image credit: ClearMoments/123RF Stock Photo

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