Once summer arrives, you can’t wait to drag the paddling pool out of the shed and enjoy long days in the garden with your little ones.
But while you might be OK with a slick of factor 15, your child’s sensitive skin needs more protection from the sun’s rays.
‘Your baby’s skin is very different to your own,’ says paediatric dermatologist Dr Emma Howard, ‘and this makes it more vulnerable to sun damage.’
The outer layer of your baby’s skin is not as thick as yours, so it’s not as able to resist the sun’s rays.
‘This leaves your little one particularly susceptible to damage from the wavelengths of ultraviolet light that reach the Earth from the sun,’ explains Dr Emma.
Too much exposure now, when his skin is so vulnerable, can have repercussions later in life.
Keep babies younger than six months out of the sun altogether
‘Your baby’s skin is particularly delicate up to the age of six months, and then it slowly matures during the toddler years to become similar to adult skin,’ says Dr Emma.
Current guidelines advise that babies aged less than six months should be kept out of direct sunlight completely, as their skin is just too delicate to cope. So, think shade, shade and more shade.
Keep babies older than six months out of the midday sun
From six months onwards, your child’s time in direct sun should still be minimal, and he should stay in the shade from 11am to 3pm when the sun is strongest.
Will keeping your child out of strong sunlight mean they aren’t getting enough vitamin D?
Exposure to sunshine helps the body produce vitamin D, which is vital for healthy bones and teeth, and for maintaining a healthy immune system.
‘But rather than risk sun damage, it’s better for children to get this from a vitamin supplement, foods with added vitamin D, such as children’s cereal and yoghurt, or foods rich in it, such as oily fish,’ says Dr Emma.
Don’t expose skin to the sun without sunscreen
‘I don’t advocate exposing any skin to the sun without protection,’ says Dr Emma.
‘It’s often said that the sun isn’t as strong in the UK as it is abroad. But it’s the same sun! So, always use sunscreen, wherever you are.’
Cloud will filter some rays, but not all, so apply sunscreen even if it’s overcast.
Look out for three essentials when choosing a sunscreen for your child
‘Firstly, use a product made specifically for children, which will be kinder to young skin,’ says Dr Emma. ‘These shouldn’t be fragranced, or contain the preservative Methylchloroisothiazolinone (MCI/MI), which
can aggravate sensitive skin.
‘Secondly, opt for a minimum sun-protection factor (SPF) 30, which means skin can be exposed to the sun 30 times longer before burning than if it had no protection at all. But bear in mind that, even with this level of protection, if your child has skin that’s sensitive to the sun and would normally react in a minute, this still only means half an hour of safe sun-time.
‘Finally, look for a five-star UV rating – in conjunction with a high SPF, this means it will absorb a high percentage of both UVA and UVB rays.
‘It doesn’t matter whether you choose a cream, lotion or spray, although coloured or creamy products rather than clear make it easier to see where you’ve applied it. And if your child is going to be in water, make sure it’s waterproof.’
At least a week before you intend using the sunscreen, do a patch test on your child, to make sure his skin doesn’t react to any of the ingredients.
Spend time applying sunscreen well
Put the sunscreen on at least 15 minutes before he goes into the sun, to allow it to dry.
It’s a good habit to apply it again once you’re in the sun, just to make sure you cover any bits you missed first time around.
Apply it everywhere that will be in direct sunlight, including the scalp if your baby has fine hair and won't wear a hat.
Pay attention to areas like the underarms, ears, tops of the feet and the back of the neck, which are easily missed.
Be careful around his eyes, though, as the preservatives contained in the sunscreen can cause them to water.
And use plenty: ‘Put on an amount that means you really have to work to rub it in,’ says Dr Emma. ‘I’d estimate you’d get through at least one average-sized bottle per child on a week’s holiday.’
Re-apply often too. ‘Even if a product states that it lasts eight to ten hours, in reality it would only last that long if your child didn’t rub his skin, get hot or wet, or use a towel,’ says Dr Emma. ‘So re-apply the sunscreen at least every two hours. And, if he’s been in the water, you’ve dried him with a towel, or he’s been rolling about in the sand, re-apply straight afterwards too.’
Use whatever else you can to shield your baby from the sun
A wide-brimmed hat is a must and, if your toddler will wear them, sunglasses that meet the British Standard (BSEN 1836:2005) and carry the CE mark.
If you’re going to be spending time in a pool or on the beach, then use an all-in-one sun protection suit that offers an ultraviolet-protection factor (UPF) of 50+. This means that just two per cent of the sun’s UV radiation will reach his skin beneath it.
An ordinary T-shirt lets in 20 per cent, and more when wet and the weave is stretched apart.
Sun-protection fabrics feature a higher amount of fibres per unit of surface area, and cover the areas most prone to burning – the body and the tops of the arms and legs. Do read the care advice, as the fabric can weaken with washing. And don’t be slow to replace it, as wear will also lessen the protection it offers.
Make staying safe in the sun part of your going-out routine
‘The sooner you develop a good sun-safety routine, the better,’ says Dr Emma. ‘If it’s always part of your routine in the summer, then he won’t moan about having the sunscreen put on, or wearing a hat, and
he will have good habits for life.’
Five products to keep your child safe in the sun
Solar Buddies Sunscreen Applicator
Fill this with sunscreen and give to your child, while you concentrate on applying the SPF for real. It’s easy to grip, and a rollerball controls the flow while the surrounding sponge rubs it in. £8, solarbuddies.co.uk
JoJo Maman Bébé Sun Protection Suit
Light, bright, and super-stretchy, this sun suit is comfy for little ones to wear. With a UPF of 50+, it’s also machine washable at 30˚C, and quick to dry, so you’ll love it too. £19, jojomamanbebe.co.uk
Solait Kids Moisturising Sun Lotion
Buy a couple of these pouches, stash one in your pushchair and one in your changing bag, and you’ll never be caught out on an unexpectedly sunny day again. £1.99, superdrug.com
Childs Farm 50+ spf Sun Cream
This provides superb protection from both UVA and UVB rays, while being kind to even the most sensitive young skin. It’s thick too, so you can instantly see any missed bits. £10.99 for 100ml, childsfarm.com
Uvistat Kids Sun Care Lipscreen
This orange-flavoured lip balm gives a moisturizing layer of SPF 50 and tastes good, so little ones won’t mind having it on. £5.50, boots.com