Slop on sunscreen

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

Sunscreen should be the last line of defence after clothing, a hat, sunglasses and shade. For any skin not covered by clothing, apply a generous amount of SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen 20 minutes before going outdoors and re-apply every two hours, and after swimming and water play.

Sunscreen applied in the morning will not last all day so re-application before going outdoors is necessary. If your child’s skin isn’t covered with clothing, what is protecting it from the sun’s UV? Playing in the shade will help reduce some UV but not all. Sunscreen adds another layer of protection against UV for skin you can’t cover with clothing.

The widespread use of sunscreen on babies under 6 months old is not recommended. Physical protection such as shade, clothing and broad-brimmed hats are the best sun protection measures. If babies are kept out of the sun or well protected from UV radiation by clothing, hats and shade, then sunscreen only needs be used occasionally on very small areas.

Sunscreen reactions and allergies

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 ingredients that filter or block UV. If a person experiences an allergic reaction to a sunscreen, look for a fragrance-free product such as a toddler or sensitive sunscreen.

If you are concerned about reactions to sunscreen, Cancer Council recommends performing a usage test before applying a new sunscreen. Apply a small amount of the product on the inside of the forearm for a few days to check if the skin reacts, prior to applying it to the rest of the body.

While the usage test may show whether the skin is sensitive to an ingredient in the sunscreen, it may not always indicate an allergy, as this may also occur after repeated use of the product. As with all products, use of any sunscreen should cease immediately and medical attention should be sought if any unusual reaction is observed. Professional assessment and testing by a dermatologist may be useful to identify the ingredient in the sunscreen that is causing the reaction.

More information on sunscreen and nanoparticles

Sunscreen tips for parents

  • Choose a sunscreen that your child feels comfortable wearing and is easy to apply.
  • 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 refreshing 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.
  • Make sunscreen application a bit of fun and encourage children to put a dot of sunscreen on each cheek, nose and their chin and carefully rub it in (avoiding the eye area). They can add squiggles of sunscreen to any part of their arms and legs not covered with clothing.
  • Remember role modelling – children learn best from what they see adults doing. Apply your sunscreen at the same time so children can watch how you do it and follow your example.   
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