We know families love being outdoors and being active. It’s good for your family’s health and creates a sense of connection, whether you’re visiting a park, beach or just heading down the street – it’s a great way to be spending time together.
But being outdoors means your family can be exposed to UV radiation.
To protect your family’s health and create habits that your children can carry with them through life, make sure your family know when the UV hits 3 and the best ways to cover up from UV.
On this page:
Know your UV
UV radiation can’t be seen or felt. When the UV radiation hits our exposed skin, it causes damage to the cells. The more the skin is exposed to UV radiation, the greater the risk of damage and skin cancer.
If you can see skin, UV can get in and do damage. Download the free SunSmart Global UV app to check the UV index wherever you are.
If the UV is 3 or above, make sure your family uses five forms of sun protection by wearing a hat, clothing and sunglasses, applying sunscreen and enjoying shady areas outdoors to give you extra coverage.
Role model for sun protection behaviours
Parents and carers are powerful role models. When you use sun protection such as hats, shade, sunscreen and clothing, not only is it protecting you, it means your children are more likely to use them too.
Research shows healthy habits learned in childhood are more likely to continue than those developed in adulthood. A study has also found that teenagers who used sunscreen generally had parents who insisted on sunscreen use when they were children.
Children in Australia are exposed to SunSmart messages in early childhood centres and primary schools, so by continuing to use these measures they’ll be able to protect their skin from UV no matter where they are.
Develop independent sun protection skills
Early childhood experts advise that children usually have a natural drive to be independent.
Parents and carers can help encourage children’s independence by involving them in daily sun protection behaviours, such as guiding them to select SunSmart clothing choices, making sure hats are easily accessible, creating a sunscreen station, and promoting outdoor activities in shaded spaces.
Sun protection tips for families with babies and children
Outdoor time is great for babies and young children. To make it a positive experience, be sure to cover up and protect their delicate skin from harsh and harmful UV radiation.
Create a barrier between the skin and UV using loose-fitting clothing and hats. Stay in shady spaces and out of direct sun when the UV is 3 or above.
For those small parts of skin you can’t cover with clothing, use SPF 50+ sunscreen on babies over six months. Always test it on a patch of skin first to be sure it suits their skin.
If you can see skin, UV can reach it. Clothing can be a great barrier between the sun’s UV and your child’s skin.
Try to cover as much skin as possible with cool, loose-fitting clothing made from densely-woven fabric like cotton.
Sunscreen should be considered the last line of defence when it comes to sun protection. No sunscreen blocks 100% of UV radiation.
- 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.
- Set up a station at home so children can apply their sunscreen in front of a mirror.
- Try a clip-on sunscreen that can hang from your child’s bag so they can reapply when at childcare or school.
Sunscreen and babies
Regular sunscreen use on babies under six months is not recommended. Physical protection such as shade, clothing and wide brim hats are the best sun protection measures.
If babies are kept out of the sun and protected from UV radiation, sunscreen only needs to be used occasionally on very small areas.
Choose a hat that shades head, face, eyes, ears and neck. Bucket, wide brim, or legionnaire hats are best. Caps do not offer enough protection.
- For babies, choose a hat 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 their head and provides shade across their face and neck areas.
- For older children, a bucket hat should have a deep crown and an angled brim which is at least 6cm. A wide brim 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.
A note about head lice
Head lice have not been found to live in hats because hats do not provide the right conditions for them to thrive and survive. For more information see Department of Health – Head Lice and Better Health Channel.
The shade moves with the sun, so always be prepared to move around and follow the shade.
- Babies under 12 months have very sensitive skin and should always be kept in shade and out of direct sun when UV is 3 or above.
- Trees with dense foliage that provide dark, even shade patches are the best types of natural shade.
- Take a portable shade with you to avoid getting caught out. Consider a beach umbrella or a shade tent.
- Use a shade visor or hang a light 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 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 out and air can circulate, and a shade fabric section. The fabric section should block close to 100% of UV radiation while the mesh section should block at least 70%.
Some young children may be reluctant to wear sunglasses. You can protect their eyes by putting on a wide brim hat and staying in the shade. If you wear your sunglasses every time you leave the house, they’ll be able to see you role modelling the behaviour.
Sunglasses designed for babies and toddlers may have soft elastic to keep them in place. It’s important to choose a style that stays on securely so the arms don't become a safety hazard.
Toy sunglasses do not meet the Australian Standard requirements and should not be used for sun protection.
Find more information about using all five forms of sun protection
Sun protection tips for families with teenagers
While more than 90% of adolescents acknowledge they can avoid skin cancer by using sun protection, they’re still more likely to spend extended periods of time in the sun compared to other age groups.
Exposure to UV radiation during childhood and adolescence is more likely to lead to skin cancer later in life.
How can I talk to my teenager about having a tan?
Any change in natural skin colour is a sign the body is trying to protect itself from UV radiation and DNA damage.
If you notice your children’s skin starts to change colour – what people often call a ‘tan’ – that’s a clear sign that damage is being done. The more the skin is exposed to UV radiation, the greater the risk of damage, premature skin aging, and skin cancer.
Talking to teenagers about UV radiation and the damage it causes to skin cells can highlight the risk of being outdoors without sun protection.
Encourage your teenager to watch Dear 16 Year Old Me which demonstrates what people wish they’d known as a teen in relation to skin cancer.
How can I talk to my teenager about sunburn?
We know that sunburn feels painful and can blister and peel afterwards. That is a significant example of the harm from UV radiation on skin cells. Sunburn is a sign of damage and even after the initial pain, peeling and colour goes away, the damage will linger.
UV exposure adds up over time. Skin remembers and records all UV exposure and DNA damage leading to an increased risk of skin cancer.
Talk to teenagers about sunburn as a serious sign of damage and explain how skin cancer is formed each time the skin cells try to repair themselves, meaning they can mutate and cause cancer that in some cases can spread to other organs in their body. But this can be avoided, including the initial burning, pain and peeling of sunburn, by using sun protection.
How can I encourage sun protection behaviours?
If you want to make a serious impact on your children’s sun protection behaviours, make sure you are setting a positive example. It’s hard to get teenagers and children to use sun protection if you don’t use all five forms yourself.
We recommend you all understand UV, and the impact it has on your skin and health.
Download the free SunSmart Global UV app, be aware of the UV levels during the day and encourage your children who have a phone to download the app too so they know when the UV index hits 3 or above.
Protect yourself and your family – learn more about UV