Keeping your children safe in the sun

When the hotter months roll around and summer arrives, it’s important to keep your children safe in the sun.

All the sun exposure you get during your life adds to your risk of getting melanoma. Melanoma is the deadliest kind of skin cancer. Only 25 per cent of children use sunscreen on a regular basis. We encourage you to apply sunscreen to your child’s skin regularly, especially in the summer. 

The five S’s of sun safety 

  1. SLIP on a t-shirt

  2. SLOP on SPF 30+ broad spectrum UVA sunscreen

  3. SLAP on a broad brimmed hat

  4. SLIDE on quality sunglasses

  5. SHADE from the sun whenever possible 

And remember to KEEP HYDRATED!

Protecting skin with sunscreen when in the sun is very important. For children and adults, too much exposure from the sun can be harmful to the skin. 

Sunlight is an important source of Vitamin D. For adults this should be balanced with using sunscreen. However, children should always use sunscreen and are advised to take vitamin D supplements to make sure they get enough vitamin D. 

Sunblock and sunscreen

Sunblocks provide a physical barrier between your skin and the sun using a variety of ingredients that reflect the harmful UVB rays. Sunscreen, on the other hand, provides a chemical barrier that absorbs the UVA rays before they can damage your skin. 

Always check that the sun cream used is for children’s skin as these may be less likely to have allergic reactions or be too potent. Before application ensure skin is clean and dry and check the sun cream is within the expiry date. 

SPF

When purchasing sun cream, check its sun protection factor (SPF). The SPF determines the amount of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) protection. You should see a star rating of up to 5 stars on UK sunscreens, the higher the star rating, the better.

Broad-spectrum sunscreen guards against both UVA and UVB and is the safest way to protect children’s skin. Generously apply sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 or more to all areas of skin exposed to the sun. A waterproof sunscreen is better, even if you are not swimming, as it protects you better if you sweat. 

A guide on using sunscreens: 10 Best Sunscreens for Babies & Kids (2021 Reviews)

When and how often to apply sunscreen

Apply the sunscreen 20-30 minutes before going outside and at least every 2 hours. If you swim or sweat a lot, use it more often. Remember using a towel or lying back on a fabric sunbed/pushchair can rub the sunscreen off. 

Young children have a higher proportion of body water than adults. They're also less heat tolerant and may be more likely to get dehydrated, especially when being physically active and in hot climates.

Encouraging children to drink fluids regularly is important as children may not remember to have a drink by themselves. 

Children should consume 6-8 glasses of water or water-based fluid every day. On hotter days they’ll need to drink more. Younger children need relatively smaller drinks (e.g. 120–150 ml serving) and older children need larger drinks.

11 ideas to hydrate children

1. Make ice lollies using well diluted squash. Don’t add sugar and avoid using blackcurrant squash which can irritate the bladder.

2. Draw lines on drinks bottles. This gives kids a visual goal of how much they should drink at different times of the day, which helps when they’re at school and it’s hard to keep track of how much they’re drinking.

3. Jazz up their water with ice cubes, umbrellas and slices of fruit.

4. Buy or customise your own funky straws.

5. Let them choose their cup and fill it themselves.

6. Holding a tea party using water, or allowing your child to play with a toy tea pot and cups to make ‘cups of tea’.

7. At home and within their reach, fill up a water dispenser with an easy tap. Add slices of citrus fruit and encourage them to use it throughout the day to get their own drink.

8. Talk to their teacher about encouraging pupils to drink during the day. Their teacher could keep a bottle of water on their own desk and sip from it during the day, or have a ‘carpet time session’ where they explain why water is good for health.

9. Use syringes to play measuring games.

10. Using sugar free squashes can help to encourage more fluids, but be mindful most squashes still contain sugar and can contribute to tooth decay or over stimulate the bladder causing toilet accidents. The healthiest drink is water throughout the day and milk in the evening. Remember that many foods have high water content and can also contribute to fluid intake, including, fruit, vegetables, soup and yoghurt.

11. Using a reward chart can be a positive way of encouraging your child to increase their fluid intake, stickers, prizes and lots of praise will allow them to associate drinking as a positive activity. Drawing empty cups and asking your child to colour the cup after each drink is a good way of showing them how well they are doing and makes it fun.

Help your little ones understand how to keep safe within the sun in order to teach skills they can use as they grow older.

Provide them with the narrative of why you're applying sun cream and asking them to sit in the shade or drink more.

Try watching child friendly videos such as from Cbeebies or paediatrican Dr Ranj. Videos can aid toddlers understanding of sun safety. 

Most importantly role model sun safety advice. Children develop learned behaviours from their parents and carers. Demonstrate wearing suncream, drinking water and staying in the shade and this will hopefully lead them to copy your behaviour.

Shade

Keeping a toddler out of the sun can be challenging if they are eager to play, but choosing shaded areas, such as under a shelter, umbrella or trees can allow more fun outdoors.

Always keep babies and toddlers in the shade if you can. 

Often pools are used to play outdoors in hot weather, always place them in shaded areas and never leave your child outdoors alone in a pool. Once play has finished, always drain the water away to avoid any risk of drowning.

  • Loose clothing to avoid children feeling sticky and hot. Jumpsuits, shorts and t-shirts are ideal. Whilst we don't encourage lots of layers, it's important to keep their sensitive skin covered. Cover up with long-sleeved shirts and long trousers or skirts.

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat that covers the face, neck and ears.

  • Wear sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays.

  • Use sunscreen (at least SPF 30) and reapply it every 2 hours throughout the day.

  • Spend time in the shade, such as under a tree or umbrella, or in a sun tent (particularly during the middle of the day).

  • If playing outdoors in pools or water be sure to regularly reapply sun cream and use swimwear that covers up as much as the body as possible to avoid burns.

  • Hats are a must when out in the sunshine. A 'legionnaire' style hat with a wide brim is best, as it will shade the head, face, ears and neck. Baseball caps do not shade the ears or neck, and so are not as effective.

  • Necks, shoulders and ears are particularly common places that burn, pay attention to covering these up or using suncream. 

In the evening, provide your child with a cooler bath time.

Close the blinds and curtains within their bedroom early on to allow the room to become cooler. 

Choose loose fitting, cool pyjamas or vests for your toddler to wear at night.

On their bed, have one thin blanket for comfort. 

Be careful leaving a window open in a child’s room, it's not likely to cool a room, but will increase the risk of a very serious fall.

If your child does get sunburn, get out of the sun as soon as possible – head indoors or into the shade.

How to ease sunburn

  • 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 painkiller like ibuprofen or paracetamol to relieve pain.

If your child feels unwell or the skin swells badly or blisters, get medical advice immediately. Stay well out of the sun until all signs of redness have gone.

Seek medical attention 

  • if your child’s skin is blistered or swollen

  • they have a temperature is very high or feel hot and shivery

  • you notice they are very tired, dizzy and sick

  • headache and muscle cramps

  • your baby or young child has sunburn

Severe sunburn can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can be very serious.

Don’ts for sunburn or sun damage 

  • do not use petroleum jelly on sunburnt skin

  • do not put ice or ice packs on sunburnt skin

  • do not pop any blisters

  • do not scratch or try to remove peeling skin

  • do not wear tight-fitting clothes over sunburnt skin