Sun protection for babies, toddlers and children

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Childhood and adolescence are critical periods during which exposure to UV radiation is more likely to contribute to skin cancer in later life.

Parents have an important role to ensure their children establish healthy sun protection habits during the early years. Research into the effectiveness of role modelling shows us that adopting sun protective behaviours yourself means your children will be more likely to do the same.

When to use sun protection

The daily sun protection times are issued whenever UV levels reach 3 or above. Because you can’t see or feel UV, you can’t rely on your senses to let you know when you’re in danger. Get in the habit of checking the sun protection times each day.

Sun protection times are available from:

If you can’t find the daily sun protection times, make sure you use sun protection each day from September to the end of April in Victoria. Don’t just wait for hot, sunny days.

Make sure your child’s preschool or school follows the sun protection times or months of the year for sun protection. It’s not just terms 1 and 4 anymore!

When UV levels are low (usually from May to August), sun protection is generally not required. However, if spending longer periods of time outdoors or near reflective surfaces such as snow, it is recommended that your child’s skin be protected by wearing sensible clothing and seeking shade when available.

5 SunSmart steps

Active, outdoor play across the day throughout the year is important for health and development. Whenever you’re outside during the sun protection times, make sure the whole family are well protected, including the adults, by using these 5 SunSmart steps, even if it’s cool or cloudy.

1. Slip on covering clothing

If you can see skin, UV can reach it. Try to cover as much skin with cool, loose-fitting clothing.

Clothing style tips

  • Choose clothing and baby wraps made from cool, densely-woven fabric that isn’t too tight and still allows air flow.
  • Tops with elbow-length sleeves, and if possible, collars and knee-length or longer style shorts and skirts are best.
  • If a child is wearing a singlet top or dress, don’t forget to cover up with a t-shirt or shirt before outdoor play.
  • Layering clothing can help create more UV protection.
  • Darker colours generally offer more protection than lighter colours.
  • Use rashies or t-shirts for outdoor swimming. If using a t-shirt, don’t forget to change it when out of the water as dry t-shirts have a tighter fabric structure than wet ones.

More tips on how to choose sun-protective clothing

2. Slop on SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen

For any skin not covered by clothing, apply a generous amount of SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen about 20 minutes before going outdoors and re-apply every two hours. One application is not enough. Only use sunscreen with other forms of sun protection. Sunscreen should never be used to extend time in the sun.

Sunscreen tips for parents

  • Choose a sunscreen that your child feels comfortable wearing and is easy to apply.
  • Remember to re-apply sunscreen after swimming or water play.
  • When trying a new sunscreen on babies, test it on a small patch of skin first to make sure it is suitable. 
  • The Australasian College of Dermatologists state that because very young babies (less than six months of age) absorb more of any chemical applied to the skin than adults, the widespread regular use of chemical sunscreens is not recommended. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that sunscreens may be used on infants younger than six months on small areas of skin if adequate clothing and shade are not available
  • Many brands of sunscreen have a baby or toddler formula. These are just as protective, but much gentler on the skin. Look for sunscreens that have been tested for sensitive skin.  
  • From about the age of three, let children practise applying sunscreen so they can develop this skill ready for pre-school and school.
  • Set up a sunscreen station in the bathroom at home so children can apply their sunscreen in front of the mirror and then wipe their hands.
  • Pop sunscreen in the cooler section of the lunchbox so it will be cold when applying – especially nice on a hot, summer’s day.
  • Try a clip on sunscreen that can hang from your child’s bag and act as a visual reminder.
  • Remember role modelling – children learn best from what they see adults doing.

Sunscreen safety

We know with 100% certainty that too much UV can cause skin and eye damage and lead to skin cancer. Regular use of sunscreen has been shown to reduce the incidence of melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma, both in the short and long term. Cancer Council would never recommend the use of a harmful or dangerous substance. All sunscreens in Australia are tightly regulated through the Therapeutic Goods Administration .

The risk of allergies and cross infection from sunscreen use is very small. If an allergic reaction to sunscreen does occur, it is usually caused by perfumes and/or preservatives in the product, not the chemicals that filter or block UV. If someone is experiencing an allergic reaction to a sunscreen, it may be good to look for a fragrance-free product such as a toddler or sensitive sunscreen.

More information on sunscreen and nanoparticles .

3. Slap on a hat

A good sun protective hat shades the head, face, eyes, ears and neck. Bucket, wide-brimmed or legionnaire hats are best. Baseball caps do not offer enough protection for the cheeks, ears and neck, and are not recommended.

Hat styles

  • For babies, choose a fabric that will crumple easily when they put their head down.
  • For younger children choose a hat size that is proportional to the size of the child’s head and provides shade across the face and neck areas.
  • For older children, a bucket hat should have a deep crown and angled brim which is at least 6cm. A wide brimmed hat should have a brim that is at least 7.5cm. The side flap and front peak of a legionnaire hat should meet to protect the side of the face.
  • Hats that can be adjusted at the crown are best. If the hat is secured with a long strap and toggle, ensure it has a safety snap, place the strap at the back of the head or trim the length so it doesn’t become a choking hazard.

Many children do not like to wear hats. Persistence is needed to teach them that a hat is part of their outside routine. Children are more likely to wear their hat if their parents do too.

Tips for choosing a hat .

A note about head lice

Head lice have not been found to live in hats. Head lice very rarely fall from the head and require blood to survive. Head lice feed three to four times a day and without blood, will dehydrate in six hours in a dry climate and 24 hours in a humid climate. An egg requires warmth to hatch and is the reason why they are laid close to the scalp. The further away from the scalp, the less likely they are to survive. Hats do not provide the right conditions for head lice to survive and thrive. For further information see Department of Health – head lice and Better Health Channel .

4. Seek shade

Always be sure to keep babies under 12 months well protected and in the shade during the sun protection times.

Even in the shade, UV can reflect from surfaces such as sand, glass, brick and concrete, so still use a hat, clothing, sunscreen and sunglasses.

Choose play spaces with shade or take some with you.

Shade tips

  • The shade moves with the sun, so be prepared to move around a bit and follow the shade.
  • If using natural shade from a tree, where possible, look for dense foliage with a dark, even shady patch.
  • Taking some portable shade with you ensures you won’t be caught out. Consider a beach or market umbrella or shade tent. 
  • When travelling, use a shade visor or hang a blanket over the side windows in the car. Side and back windows don’t offer as much protection as the front windscreen.
  • When buying a pram, check that the hood can be adjusted, so that it can be moved to block out the direct sun. For the best protection, pram shade covers should completely cover the pram and be made of densely woven fabric that combines a mesh section – so the baby can see and air can circulate – and a shade fabric section. The fabric section should block close to 100% of UV radiation (UPF50+) and the mesh section should block at least 70% of UV radiation (UPF3.3).

5. Slide on sunglasses

Sunglasses are recommended any time you are outside to protect your eyes, which are particularly sensitive to the sun's UV rays.

During the sun protection times, use a hat and/or sunglasses to protect your child’s eyes from UV radiation.

Toy or fashion-labelled sunglasses do not meet the requirements for sunglasses under the Australian Standard and should not be used for sun protection.

Look for sunglasses that:

  • are a close fitting, wrap-around style that cover as much of the eye area as possible
  • are labeled that they meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067:2003 (Sunglasses and fashion spectacles: sunglasses category 2, 3 or 4)
  • have soft elastic to help keep them in place.

Supporting your child’s pre-school or school SunSmart initiatives

Parents can help support their child’s pre-school or school SunSmart initiatives by ensuring their child wears sun safe clothing and remembers to bring their sun protective hat each day. Make sure SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen is in their bag so this can be reapplied before outdoor times. It is great if you can help develop good sunscreen application techniques at home so your child will be all set when they get to pre-school or school.

As pre-school sessions are now longer it’s very important that all pre-schools include sunscreen application as part of their regular routine. One application at drop off time is no longer enough.

Ensure your child’s early childhood service or school actively encourages sunscreen application before outdoor activities.

Vitamin D

From May to August in Victoria UV levels are typically low (below 3), so it’s time to put sun hats and other sun protection gear away and get some sun for vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones, muscles and general health. The best natural source of vitamin D is the sun’s UV.

During these months it is recommended that you try to get outdoors during the middle of the day each day with some skin uncovered.

Sun protection is not usually required at this time of year, unless near highly reflective surfaces such as snow, outside for extended periods or when the UV reaches 3 and above.

SunSmart’s top winter vitamin D tips:

  • Physical activity assists with production of vitamin D, so get the family outside and active in the middle of the day.
  • Clothing acts as a barrier to vitamin D absorption, so put away the hat and roll up the sleeves when you’re outdoors.
  • Download SunSmart’s free app to check the daily sun protection times and know when you do or don’t need sun protection.
  • No app? Check the weather section of the newspaper or visit sunsmart.com.au to find out when you do and don’t need sun protection each day.
  • If you are concerned about vitamin D, speak to your doctor for advice.

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