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Toddler in sun hat

Being out with kids is fun, messy and brings out the smiles but protecting them from the sun can be a worry. Here’s what you need to know about sun safety.

When it comes to kids, hot weather can be tricky. Keeping them cool, making sure they don’t get sunburnt and persuading them to keep that hat on can be a parenting challenge. Here’s a quick how-to guide on sun safety and avoiding sunburn.

1. Stay in the shade

Shade, especially when you have a small child, is your friend. Particularly between 11am and 3pm when the sun is strongest (NHS, 2019a). Remember that we can get our vitamin D even in the shade (NHS, 2020).

Be wary of covering your buggy with a muslin or blanket to shade your baby from the sun: they can make the inside really hot. Even well-designed sunshades can raise temperatures if left in the hot sun (Which?, 2022). So it's best to use a parasol or sunshade designed for your buggy and to keep it away from direct sunlight and in the shade as much as possible.

The car can get very hot too, so don’t leave your baby or child in a closed parked vehicle either (NHS, 2019b).

2. Be extra strict under six months

Babies’ skin is much more sensitive than adult skin. Damage caused by repeated exposure to sunlight could lead to skin cancer in later life. Keep babies under the age of six months out of direct sunlight (NHS, 2021a)

3. Cover up

Dress your kids in loose cotton clothes like oversized T-shirts with sleeves. Floppy, wide-brimmed hats that shade their face and neck are also good. Protect your child's eyes with sunglasses that meet the British Standard and carry the CE mark on their label (NHS, 2019c)

4. Watch their neck and shoulders

Be especially careful to protect your child's shoulders and the back of their neck when they're playing: these are the most common areas for sunburn (NHS, 2019a). Where possible, choose fabrics that don’t have gaps that allow the sun through.

5. Slap on the sunscreen

Sunscreen is not an alternative to covering up but it’s a good extra. Apply it half an hour before you go outside and use it liberally and repeatedly on all exposed skin, even on cloudy or overcast days (NICE, 2016).

Choose one that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or above and is effective against UVA and UVB. Many companies have sun protection products that are specifically for babies and young children, which are less likely to irritate their skin. If kids are in a paddling pool, use waterproof sunscreen and re-apply as soon as they’re out of the water (NHS, 2019c, 2021a)

6. Stay hydrated

Dehydration is a significant risk for babies and children. Breastfed babies will simply need more breastmilk, which adjusts to be more watery in hot weather. Formula fed babies can be offered cooled boiled water.

See our article on when your baby can have water to drink for more information.

Sunburn and heat exhaustion remedies and treatment

If your child does get sunburn or heat exhaustion, get out of the sun as soon as possible – head indoors or into the shade (NHS, 2022).

You can usually treat mild sunburn at home by:
•    Cooling the skin with a cold bath or shower, sponging it with cold water, or holding a cold flannel to it.
•    Using lotions containing aloe vera to soothe and moisturise. 
•    Giving your child plenty of fluids to cool them down and prevent dehydration.
•    Giving your little one child-friendly painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol to relieve pain.

(NHS, 2022; NHS, 2021b) 

If your child feels unwell or the skin swells badly or blisters, get medical advice immediately (NHS, 2022). Tempting as it is to get back outside, stay well out of the sun until all signs of redness have gone.

This page was last reviewed in June 2022.

Further information

Our helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0333 252 5051.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

NHS. (2019a) Sun safety for children. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/safety-in-the-sun [2nd June 2022]

NHS. (2019b) Heatwave: how to cope in hot weather. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/livewell/summerhealth/pages/heatwave.aspx [Accessed 2nd June 2022]

NHS. (2019c) Sunscreen and sun safety. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/livewell/skin/pages/sunsafe.aspx [Accessed 2nd June 2022]

NHS. (2021a) How can I keep my baby safe in the sun? Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/first-aid-and-safety/safety/safety-i… [Accessed 2nd June 2022]

NHS. (2021b) Heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Available at:   https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/heat-exhaustion-heatstroke/ [Accessed 2nd June 2022]

NHS. (2022) Sunburn. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sunburn/ [Accessed 2nd June 2022]

NICE. (2016) Sunlight exposure: risks and benefits. NICE guideline [NG34]. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng34/chapter/2-Supporting-information-for-practitioners [Accessed 2nd June 2022]

Which? (2022) Pushchair safety tips. Available at: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/pushchairs/article/pushchair-safety-aQy… [Accessed 9th June 2022]

 

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