Children's sun protection
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Are sunscreens suitable for very young children?
Sunscreens play an important role in protecting skin from the sun's harmful rays that can burn and also cause premature ageing and skin cancer. As with all cosmetics, making sure that sunscreens are safe is a key priority of cosmetic regulations. These cosmetic regulations require a specific safety assessment for products, including sunscreens, intended to be used on or by children under three years old.
When it comes to very young children, there is no research to suggest that sunscreen is not safe to use. However, because a baby's skin is very sensitive to sunlight, it is recommended that parents keep children under six months out of direct sunlight altogether.
Top tips for keeping children's skin safe in the sun
- Keep them covered: One of the best ways to protect your child's skin from the sun's rays is to keep them covered up with loose-fitting, tightly-woven clothing and a wide-brimmed hat.
- Seek out the shade: Set up your children's play areas in the shade so they are less likely to suffer from over-exposure to the sun. The sun is usually at its most intense between 11am and 3pm, so shade is even more important during this time.
- Stay sunscreen safe: As a general rule, children over six months old should wear a sunscreen with SPF15 or higher with UVA protection. Although the British Skin Foundation recommends that children should use a minimum SPF 30 product with UVA protection. Of course it is important to try and keep sun exposure to a minimum for young children and especially babies under the age of 6 months. Try to keep them in the shade whenever possible and certainly during the hottest time of the day and keep them covered with t-shirts and hats. Sunscreen should be applied 15-30 minutes before going out in the sun and re-applied every couple of hours throughout the day. Remember to re-apply if your child has been playing in the water and never use sunscreen to extend the time they should normally spend in the sun.
- Protect their "peepers": Children's eyes can be more sensitive to UV light than those of adults, so they need protection. Invest in a good pair of sunglasses for your child with 100 percent UV filtration (toy sunglasses may provide no protection at all) and also a wide-brimmed hat.
- Healthy and hydrated: Make sure your child drinks plenty of water, particularly in hot weather; keeping up their water intake prevents dehydration and maintains healthy kidneys and bladder.
- Be wary of temporary tattoos: Temporary tattoos are a popular holiday treat for children, especially when visiting foreign countries, but be aware of the dangers they could pose to your child's skin. Some so-called "black henna" versions can contain illegal substances which can cause nasty skin reactions. Read our Safe Summer Skin guide to find out more.
- Vitamin D and the sun: There are very mixed messages about sunscreens and vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for good health, and in particular to maintain healthy bones – but excessive sun exposure can cause damage too and so there needs to be a balance. It is possible to get enough vitamin D from eating certain foods (it is found in eggs, oily fish, fish liver oils and some fortified cereals) - but this might not suit everyone’s diet; and some sunshine is a necessity. Sunlight acts on the skin to produce vitamin D. When exposed to the sun it is still important to protect the skin from the harmful effects of UV rays, including the use of sunscreens. Cancer Research UK has a great site called SunSmart which gives lots of helpful information and has a clear section on vitamin D.
Where can I find out more?
Find out from scientists how sunscreens work.
To find out more about staying safe in the sun visit:
Find out more about self-tanning products
If you want to find out about different types of ingredients in your products, visit what's in my cosmetic?