Summer is the perfect season to spend quality time outdoors with your little one, but it’s important to make sure that they stay safe in the sun. A baby’s skin is much more sensitive than an adult’s, so protecting them from harmful UV rays is crucial for their health and wellbeing. In fact, evidence suggests that sun exposure and sunburns during childhood can multiply the risk of developing skin cancer later in life. In the UK, we’re not quite used to sunny spells, but it’s important to safeguard your little one both at home and away; given that we’ve been in the midst of a heatwave, it’s the perfect time for families to get to grips with sun safety.
What age can my baby be in the sun?
Babies under 6 months should stay out of the sun completely, since their skin is too sensitive for sunscreen. Infant skin contains very little melanin, a pigment that gives colour to skin, hair and eyes. Melanin also provides some sun protection, which is why babies are especially prone to sun damage.
Once they reach 6 months of age, your baby can enjoy playing in the sun, but they should always wear sun cream, even if it looks a little overcast; it’s thought that up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can pass through the clouds. Look for a specially-formulated infant sunscreen with an SPF of 15+ (the higher the better) and apply it liberally (ideally 15 minutes before you head out), then reapply it every 2 hours to ensure that your baby stays protected. If they’re swimming in an outdoor pool or paddling in the sea, use a waterproof sunblock; remember, this will still need to be reapplied.
Whatever their age, make sure your baby or toddler enjoys the sun safely with our other warm-weather tips:
- You can keep the sun off your baby’s skin by dressing them in cool and lightweight clothes that cover their arms and legs. If they’re younger than 6 months old, ensure that their arms and legs are fully covered. Cotton is perfect for summer, since it’s made from a natural fibre which allows your baby’s skin to breathe easily; it’s also soft and gentle on delicate infant skin. Make sure they wear a sun hat too; choose a wide-brimmed floppy hat or legionnaire hat to shade your little one’s face, neck and ears.
- UV sunsuits or rash tops are designed to provide sun protection outdoors; the fact that they’re usually waterproof makes them a particularly useful holiday garment for your baby, though they’re also great to wear for sensory water play activities in the garden. You’ll find UV protective clothing (with an SPF of 50+) for babies, toddlers and young children in our shop.
- Where possible, you should avoid heading out during the sun’s peak hours (around 10am-3pm standard time, or 11am-4pm during daylight savings time). Once you’re outside, you should find a sheltered area. Pop-up tents or canopies that offer UV protection are lightweight and easy to transport; with a typical SPF of 50+, they’ll provide your family with a sheltered place in which to relax for the day.
- Often, infants are inadvertently exposed to the sun whilst they’re in a car. Windscreens are treated to block UV rays, but it’s not uncommon for back or side windows to offer little or no UV protection. Use mesh window screens or UV window films on your passenger windows, especially if you’re travelling long distances with a little one in tow.
- Protect your baby’s sensitive eyes with a pair of wraparound sunglasses. Ideally, they should wear them from the age of 6 months; infant sunglasses often come with an adjustable neoprene strap to the back of the head so that they stay put. Look out for a UV 400 label, which indicates that the sunglasses will provide 100% UV protection.
- Keep them hydrated. In warmer climates, babies and toddlers need more fluids to stay well hydrated. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s important that you stay hydrated too; always carry a water bottle to refill over the course of the day. Breastmilk is made up of water, so breastfed babies don’t need anything else to drink during hot weather.
What to do if your baby gets sunburn
Whilst we take steps to avoid it, sometimes children get sunburnt. An obvious sign of sunburn is redness on the skin that feels warm to the touch; severe sunburn can lead to blistering on the skin or a fever.
If your baby is younger than 12 months old and looks like they have sunburn, you should seek medical advice over the telephone. Your doctor may ask you to bring them in for an examination, since sunburn in infants can sometimes be more serious than it appears.
If your little one is aged 1 or over, you won’t need to consult a professional. Instead, treat the sunburn at home like so:
- Place a cool, damp cloth on the sunburnt area for 10-15 minutes. Repeat this numerous times throughout the day.
- Bathe your baby in tepid water to cool the skin and reduce any redness.
- Soothe the skin with a gentle baby moisturiser or emollient cream. Avoid using petroleum-based products, since these are especially oily – this prevents heat and sweat from escaping the skin, which could worsen the burn.
- If the sunburn is causing your baby pain, you can treat it with an over-the-counter infant paracetamol.
- It is likely that your baby will be dehydrated, so make sure they replace any lost fluids by drinking plenty; this will also help the healing process.