Simple sun safety precautions can minimise UV exposure and prevent skin damage and sunburn for your child. It’s all about timing, shade, protective clothing and sunscreen.
Sun safety at different times of year and day
Your sun safety needs change at different times of year and different times of day. That’s because UV radiation varies during the year and across Australia depending on the season.
UV radiation levels are highest between about 9 am and 4 pm, depending on where you are in Australia and the time of year. You need sun protection when the UV radiation level is 3 or above.
You can check the UV levels for your area using the SunSmart app on this page or the Bureau of Meteorology UV and sun protection guide.
If you can, save trips to the playground, the park or the beach for early morning and late afternoon, especially from September to April.
Shade gives you and your child some protection from UV radiation. Dense shade that creates a dark shadow is best.
But UV can still reach you in the shade. So even if you’re sitting in the shade, make sure you and your child wear protective clothing, including sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat. Use sunscreen on any exposed skin.
If you’re using a pram, cover it with a shade cloth that lets air get through to your child. Alternatively, some prams have adjustable canopy tops that can move and offer shade as the sun’s position changes.
If you can’t find shade, make your own using an umbrella or sunshade. Always keep window sunshades in your car to stick on side windows and protect your child while you’re driving.
Here are some things to think about when you’re looking for sun-protective clothing for your child:
Tightly woven fabric helps protect your child’s skin from the sun. Hold the fabric up to the light to see how much sun gets through. If the fabric lets a lot of light through, it will probably let a lot of UV through too.
- Long sleeves and long pants cover up more of your child’s skin. Elbow length sleeve and knee-length shorts are best if it’s too warm for full-length clothing
- Cotton clothing is cooler than clothing made from acrylic fibres.
- Loose-fitting clothing is cooler.
A hat protects your child’s face, neck and ears from the sun’s UV. Bucket, broad-brimmed and legionnaire’s hats give the best protection. Caps aren’t recommended.
For babies, look for a soft hat so that your baby can still lie down comfortably while he’s wearing it. A chin strap will help keep it on your baby’s head. Many babies and toddlers don’t like wearing hats – keep trying and eventually it will become part of your child’s routine.
Wearing sunglasses in combination with a hat can help protect your child’s eyes. Look for close-fitting, wrap-around sunglasses that meet Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067:2003. Prolonged exposure to UV is a risk factor for cataracts.
Use a SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen on your child’s face, hands and any other parts of her skin that aren’t covered by clothes, whatever your child’s skin colour. If you can see skin, UV can reach it.
Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you go outside, and reapply it every two hours (even if the tube or bottle says four hours).
You can use sunscreen on babies and children of any age. For babies under six months, first try to cover as much skin as possible with protective clothing, and use sunscreen on any skin left uncovered. Sunscreens labelled ‘for babies’ or ‘sensitive’ are less likely to cause skin irritation. Always test the sunscreen on a small area of your baby’s skin to check for any skin reactions.
Make sure sunscreen is within its use-by date, and keep it stored in a cool, shady place under 30°C.
Remember that sunscreen filters UV radiation, but doesn’t completely block it out. That’s why you need to take other sun safety precautions too.
You are your child’s most important role model, and your child copies what you do. If you take sun safety precautions yourself, your child is more likely to do it too.
Check your child’s position, hat and clothing regularly to make sure she’s out of the direct sunlight.