Babies and children are particularly sensitive to sun damage because their skin is thinner and more delicate. Sunburn can be very painful and uncomfortable, and can also increase their risk of developing skin cancer when they're older so it's vital to be careful when they're little, and instil good sun protection habits into them as they grow.
How sunlight can damage skin
Sunburn and sun damage are caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays – a natural part of sunlight. UV levels are highest between March and October. However, UV levels can be high even if the weather is cool or cloudy. If we're exposed to too many UV rays, our skin becomes burnt.
It's easy to underestimate the strength of the sunlight if you're going in and out of the water, if it's windy, or if it's sunny but cold. This is why it's recommended to use sun protection according to the calendar, rather than simply being guided by the weather.
Keeping your child safe in the sun
• Encourage your child to play in the shade. This is especially important between 11am and 3pm, when the sunlight is strongest
• Keep babies under the age of six months out of direct sunlight
• use sunscreen on your baby's or child's exposed skin – even on cool or overcast days. Look for an SPF factor of at least 30, which offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays (the two kinds of ultraviolet light that can cause sun damage)
• Pay special attention to your child's shoulders, back, ears and feet – the most common places for children to get sunburnt
• Dress your child in loose cotton clothing that covers their arms and legs
• Sunglasses can help protect your children's eyes. Your pharmacist can advise on a suitable pair
• If your child is swimming, use a waterproof sunblock and remember to reapply after swimming
If your child gets sunburn
Get your child out of the sun straight away. Take them indoors or into the shade.
You can cool their skin by bathing it with cold water, or offering a cold bath or shower. A gentle lotion can help soothe and moisturise the skin. Your pharmacist can offer advice on which products might help.
Give them plenty of water to drink, to help them cool down and avoid dehydration. If their sunburn is painful, you can consider giving a pain relief medicine such as children's paracetamol or children's ibuprofen. Read the patient information leaflet carefully to make sure it’s suitable for them.
When to get medical advice
You should see your Doctor for further advice if your child:
• Has sunburn and is very young or a baby
• Has blistering or swelling on their skin
• Becomes shivery and cold
• Has a high temperature
• Feels dizzy, sick or develops headaches
If you're worried, you can also take these steps. Remember, all health professionals would prefer to see a baby or child who doesn't need attention, than to miss seeing one who's really ill.
• Cover arms and legs in loose cotton clothing, and regularly apply a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30