Babies and young children have very sensitive skin and are at a greater risk of sunburn and skin damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. While vitamin D is essential for healthy muscles, bones, and teeth, sun exposure could be harmful to your little one. Overexposure to sunlight can lead to skin damage, sunburn, eye damage, weakened immunity, and a greater risk of skin cancer in later life. If you have a baby or child, it is important to use appropriate sun protection when they are outdoors, or when sending them to childcare.
Here are a few tips to stay safe in the sun.
Sun Protection Round the Year
Sun protection is recommended for everyone whenever the UV index is 3 or above. It is also recommended that babies are not exposed to direct sunlight when the UV reaches that level.
In some parts of Australia, the UV index stays at 3 or above for most of the year, even in cooler months. So, regardless of the season or weather, make sure to check your local UV levels on your favourite weather forecast app or the SunSmart app before heading out.
Choosing Protective Clothes
Clothing is one of the easiest ways to protect your and your child’s skin from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
- Choose fabrics with UPF, or ultraviolet protection factors, with a 50+ rating if possible.
- Alternatively, you can select materials that are tightly woven.
- Choose clothing that covers the chest, neck, shoulders and back.
- Look for clothing that has at least elbow-length sleeves and knee-length legs, but full-length is best to provide optimal sun protection.
- Choose a hat with a broad brim or with a flap at the back to properly protect your child’s face, ears, and neck.
- If possible, protect your child’s eyes with sunglasses.
Many early learning centres and preschools specify the clothing carers should pick before sending their children in. If you have a child going to daycare, check what the sun protection policy is and ensure you choose appropriate clothing.
Babies and Sunscreens
Babies under six months old have very absorbent skin, so it is recommended to avoid the use of sunscreen. The best protection for them is to stay in the shade, cover their skin with clothes, and wear a broad-brimmed hat. When choosing a sunscreen for your preschool-going child, pick a sensitive or children’s formula sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher. Even then, do a small patch test on your little one’s skin to check if their skin reacts to it.
Giving Some Shade
Where possible, try to keep your baby in the shade and away from direct sunlight. Most childcare centres incorporate cool, shady spots in their landscape design to provide sun-safe areas for children to play outside. However, UV radiation can sometimes also penetrate shady areas, or be reflected off surfaces such as water, sand, and concrete. So, it is best to use protective clothing too. Also, remember broad-brimmed hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
If you are taking your child out for a holiday, then:
- Carry or hire sunshades such as a beach umbrella or tent if the place lacks natural shade.
- If using a pram, you can use its hood or canopy for protection, or an additional mesh cover. If using a blanket or muslin wrap, don’t cover the pram as it can heat your child to the extent of discomfort.
- While travelling in a car, use window sunshades.
Children and Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for general health, particularly for calcium absorption and bone health. We get most of our vitamin D through our skin being exposed to the sun. However, babies get vitamin D from breastmilk or from a fortified formula and therefore don’t need direct sunlight exposure. Older children might only need as much as a few minutes of sunshine daily.
Vitamin D is also found in fatty fish, seafood, or mushrooms. If you are unsure your child is getting enough vitamin D, talk to your GP or paediatrician for advice.
Finally, do not forget to check the sun safety policies at your child’s Montessori Academy centre.