Baby Sun Protection & Sunburn – The Complete Guide

Did you know that infant sunburn can happen in as little as five minutes?

This doesn’t mean you have to hide away indoors with your baby as soon as the sun appears. But it does mean that you need to be well prepared and well informed so you can keep your baby well protected and comfortable in the sun.

In this ultimate guide to baby sun protection and sunburn we’ve combined professional sun safety guidance with our tips and experience so you’ll find out everything you need to know to enjoy the sunshine safely.

 Is baby sunburn worth worrying about?

Is skin damage serious?

Yes, much like if you get sunburnt, if your baby gets sunburnt, you might not realise
straight away as it can take a few hours to show visible signs. Serious burns can cause a lot of damage including painful blisters, heat stroke and fevers. 

Studies have also shown that children who suffer severe sunburn early in life are more at risk of developing melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, when they are older.

So do I need to keep my baby out of the sun completely?

Baby sunburn is serious and for newborn babies under six months, it is recommended to keep them out of direct sunlight altogether as their skin is extremely delicate. Sat in a fully shaded area with a sun hat is perfectly fine though.

After six months, you can comfortably take baby out to enjoy more of the sunshine as it can be good for them in short bursts.

How to prevent baby sunburn

 How to create complete shade to protect baby in the sun

Sometimes an innocent looking shaded area might not be as shaded as you first think; here are five ways to fully protect your baby from the sun so they can still enjoy the outdoors:

Pushchair, car seat and cot shades

When you’re out and about, it’s really important to ensure that your pushchair provides shade for baby, so they don’t overheat or get burnt. You will also need to check this regularly, to ensure that the position of the shade is fully covering your little one. There are some really great options available at the moment – just a simple online search for ‘pushchair shades’ will allow you to browse a variety of styles and options to suit your budget.

If you’re planning to carry baby in a car seat or leave your baby out to sleep in a travel cot, it’s also important to get good quality UV blocking sun shades for these. One of our favourite brands is SnoozeShade, who offer a variety of brilliant buggy, car seat, cot and travel cot shades that are easy to take on holiday with you.

UV beach tents

A fun and really handy way of staying safe in the sun whilst you’re visiting the beach is to get hold of a UV protection pop-up sun tent. These little tents are lightweight and easily transportable, making them really handy for relaxing in with all your bits and bobs, knowing that you and baby will be sheltered from harmful sun rays, wind and clouds of sand. 

Again, these are available at a wide range of price points, but always make sure that you’re choosing a tent that guarantees the material offers at least UPF 50+ protection.

Parasols

Another useful shade maker is a UV protection sun umbrella. These come in a variety of size options, so you can choose whether you’d like a big beach parasol that the whole family can shelter under, or a handy small parasol to help shade baby whilst you’re carrying them. 

It’s important to choose an umbrella that’s made with UV blocking material, so do your research before you buy.

Sun hat

Baby sun hats not only look super cute, but they’re also really important for keeping your baby protected from the sun. Choose a wide brimmed hat or a hat with a neck flap to maximise protection of the face, ears and neck.

Opt for a hat that’s made of sun-safe UV protection material and if possible, choose a hat with an elasticated or Velcro strap to help keep it stay put on baby’s head. We love some of the cool and colourful options available at JoJo Maman Bebe.

Baby sun coverups and bootees

There are lots of great baby sun coverups and bootees available, ranging from sunsuits to sun ponchos, sun tops, bottoms, bathing suits and more.

Always look for material that offers UPF 50+ protection and try to ensure that the majority of baby’s skin is covered. For some inspiration check out our top UV blocking products blog post.

Sun cream jargon explained

What is UVB & UVA?

The sunlight that reaches us is made up of three types of ultra violet radiation. Each type is classified by their wavelength which have varying degrees of impact on human skin. 

The two you will see on a sun cream bottle are UVA and UVB:

Burns the top layer of skin, leading cause of reddening and sunburn – responsible for peeling

Can penetrate deep layers of skin causing premature skin aging – responsible for tanning

What is SPF?

SPF stands for ‘Sun Protection Factor’ which is a measure of how long a sun cream will protect you from UV rays. A high SPF will allow you to spend more time in the sun. 

SPF ratings are broken into four levels:

  • Low (4, 6, 8, 10)
  • Medium or Moderate (15, 20, 25)
  • High (30, 40, 50)
  • Very high (50+)

Choosing the right SPF

A baby’s skin is very delicate, so most infants will start getting the effects of sunburn after five minutes of direct sun exposure. Picking up a sun cream with SPF 30 will protect their skin for 30 times this length of time so approximately two and a half hours (providing you apply it correctly).

However, there are a lot of other factors affecting the level of protection to be aware of such as:

  • How you apply the sun cream
  • The weather intensity
  • How much baby sweats
  • If baby has been swimming
  • How well baby is dried after swimming
  • Baby’s skin type

No SPF will protect 100% against UV rays but the higher the SPF the better the protection:

SPF 15 will block approximately 93% of UVB rays

SPF 30 will block approximately 97% of UVB rays

SPF 50 will block approximately 98% of UVB rays

This doesn’t sound a lot of difference but over the course of a lifetime this extra protection really counts.

 

Is it worth choosing super high factor sun creams such as SPF 70, 90 or 100?

Studies reveal that these extreme high factor sun creams offer just a marginal degree of extra protection – often no more than an additional 1%. Opting for SPF 30 or SPF 50+ is absolutely fine for babies and will offer their skin the adequate protection it needs.

Another thing to consider is that use of higher SPF may give you a false sense of protection, encouraging you to stay out longer in the sun or causing you to forget to re-apply as often as you should. Remember, even with a high factor sun cream you and baby always need to stay vigilant in the sun.

 

What to look for when buying baby suncream:

Opt for:

  • SPF 50+
  • ‘Broad-spectrum’ on the label (meaning protection against UVA & UVB rays)
  • Baby/children specific creams
  • Waterproof creams (even if they don’t go for a dip this is still beneficial)
  • Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide included in the ingredients list (these prevent rashes)

Avoid:

  • Chemical sun cream (as opposed to a physical sun cream)
  • Aerosol sun creams
  • Sun creams containing insect repellent (buy it separately if necessary)
  • Low SPF
  • Fragranced sun creams
  • Sun creams that have expired (all of them have an expiry date)
  • Creams with parabens

Baby Sun Protection Frequently Asked Questions

Physical sun cream is the thick white cream that you might find more difficult to rub into baby’s skin, but this is the safest sun cream option for young children. Physical sun cream sits on the skin and forms a protective barrier on baby’s skin, which blocks harmful UV rays.

Chemical sun cream sinks into the skin itself and soaks up UV rays like a sponge. This can make the skin more sensitive however, which can be a problem for your baby’s already delicate skin. The recommendation is not to use chemical, but if you do, always choose one with a compound formula, as single ingredients do not offer full UV protection.

The main difference between the two are the ingredients – to ensure that baby’s super sensitive skin is fully protected, baby sunscreen often includes more ‘physical’ ingredients such as Zinc Oxide. Where many adult sunscreens work by using chemicals that absorb into the skin, baby physical sunscreens rest on the skin to form a barrier against UV rays. This reduces the risk of harmful chemicals absorbing into your little one’s skin.  Often baby formulas also include ‘no tear’ ingredients so that if it accidentally gets into baby’s eyes, this won’t be too painful or damaging.

Here’s a round up of top 10 suncreams for children.

Aerosols

There is still a lot of dispute over whether spray sunscreens are actually safe to use, so the professional advice is to avoid using these on children.

From causing inhalation dangers to being highly flammable, to potentially containing ingredients such as oxybenzone which can behave like estrogen in the body, and retinyl palmitate, which may speed the development of skin tumours when exposed to sun, there are many associated risks. Additionally, although many spray sunscreens claim to offer full sun protection, the spray application often means that areas are missed and as a result, skin isn’t fully protected from harmful UV rays.

Insect Repellents

Although it might seem more convenient to use a sunscreen that also includes insect repellent, a product that combines both means that the capability of the sunscreen to fully block UV rays is reduced – sometimes by up to 30%. Additionally, the toxicity of the insect repellent can also be enhanced by the sunscreen, particularly in children, where harmful levels of the repellent are absorbed into the skin.

Sunscreen should also be applied much more frequently than insect repellent, so you risk either not fully protecting baby’s skin, or overdosing on the recommend amount of insect repellent. To be on the safe side, if you need both products then always purchase these separately.

Fragrant Sunscreens

Fruity sunscreens might smell delicious – but the reality is that these tropical smells are often artificial fragrances, often made up of toxic chemicals. These chemicals are rarely disclosed on sunscreen labels, but have been linked to allergies, dermatitis and respiratory issues, so are always best avoided when it comes to baby sunscreen.

Parabens

Parabens are chemicals that are often used as preservatives in skin products. However, these chemicals are absorbed into the skin and can be dangerous, especially for children. Parabens can mimic the activity of estrogen, and are linked to certain types of cancers, fertility issues, cell membrane degeneration and residue on the heart, lungs and brain. Although scientists are still disputing the extent of the harmful effects of parabens, it’s a good idea to stay clear when selecting your baby sunscreen.

Somewhat surprisingly, a study by consumer watchdog Which? concluded that most of the budget sunscreens it tested actually offered far more protection than their expensive counterparts, and more accurately lived up to the promises made on the label.

Before you blow your budget on a pricey product, always do your research. A quick online search of your preferred sunscreen brand should quickly reveal what other parents and professional reviewers have made of it, helping you to make an informed decision.

Sunscreens usually come with an expiry date printed on the bottle and you should always follow these guidelines to ensure that your baby’s sunscreen remains fully effective. If your sunscreen has expired, then discard it completely as it will no longer offer the full sun protection needed.

 If you can’t find an expiry date on the bottle, the majority of sunscreens are designed to remain at original strength for up to three years. As soon as you buy a new bottle, check for an expiry date. If your bottle doesn’t have one, then make a note of the date of purchase so you can remember when it will need replacing.

If your sunscreen has obviously changed consistency or colour, then discard this too, as it may be an indication that the cream has gone off.

Generally, SPF increases the time you can spend out in the sun. By using this calculation below, you can figure out how long you can spend in the sun with the use of different SPF factors.

Time you can usually spend outside without burning  X  SPF Factor

= Time you can safely spend outside

The amount of time you can spend in the sun varies by person, for example a very fair skinned person or an infant may only be able to spend 5 minutes out in direct sun without burning, in which case, wearing factor 20 would mean they could spend 100 minutes in the sun – 20 x the 5 minutes. Use this simple calculation to work out how long your baby can spend out in the sun.

For example, if you can usually spend 10 minutes out in the sun without burning:

 How to properly apply sun cream to a baby

 

You might think this section is going to teach you how to suck eggs but applying suncream correctly is extremely important. In this image you can see a young toddler in front of a camera with a UV lens.

The UV lens shows exactly where sun cream has been applied and exactly where it hasn’t. Sadly humans can’t see UV so if in doubt, apply too much rather than not enough.

Here’s 9 steps to correctly applying sun cream to a baby:

  1. Check the expiry date and ingredients in the sun cream
  2. Get baby into an easy position ready to apply
  3. If you are using a new brand of sun cream on your baby for the first time, test the sun cream in a small area and leave it for 20 minutes to make sure it doesn’t irritate baby’s skin
  4. Liberally apply the sun cream approximately 30 minutes before venturing outside
  5. Apply layers around the hems of clothes (in case they ride up)
  6. Don’t rub the cream in too hard, rub gently and pat in place so it forms a protective barrier
  7. Don’t forget obscure places like tops of ears, in between fingers and underarms
  8. If you are having trouble keeping baby still, try and distract them while you apply the cream
  9. Re-apply every 2-3 hours or after baby has been in water

Here’s some more great advice from the NHS.

Keep baby busy

You may find that you will need to distract baby when you apply sun cream so you can get them to sit still for long enough. The secret is to make this process seem like more of a game rather than a chore! One idea we love is using a ‘puppet sponge’ to apply the sun cream – this will amuse baby and keep them occupied, making it easier for you to properly cover them.

What should applied sun cream look like?

Once you’ve applied sun cream to baby, you should still be able to see a lot of it sitting on the skin. Pay close attention to clothing lines and those little hard-to-reach areas that are often forgotten, as these are the parts that are most likely to get burnt.

How to spot the symptoms of baby sunburn

8 signs of baby sunburn:

  1. Redness/pinkness
  2. Sore painful skin that is hot to the touch
  3. Swollen skin
  4. Blisters or pus
  5. Fever or fatigue
  6. Itchiness or skin rash
  7. Vomiting or nausea
  8. Dehydration (crying with no tears, less wet nappies than usual, cracked lips, sunken eyes, lethargic, depressed soft spot on scalp)

Sometimes even if your baby is kept out of the sun, they may develop a pimply rash. This is usually just heat rash and nothing to worry about, but if you’re concerned you should seek medical advice.

You can find out more about baby heat rash HERE.

 

When to call a doctor

As a rule, you should ALWAYS call a doctor if your baby is aged under 12 months and you suspect they have sunburn, even if it appears mild. Sunburn in very young children can sometimes be more serious than it looks, in some extreme cases even life threatening, so it’s worth having a professional opinion just in case emergency treatment is required.

Call emergency services immediately if:

  • You spot blistering in the first 24 hours
  • Your baby’s skin is swollen on hands or face
  • You notice pus from the skin, which can be a sign of infection
  • Your baby has a fever or seems to be in a lot of pain
  • Your baby is vomiting or showing signs of dehydration
  • The sunburn doesn’t heal or go away within 7 days

If your child is aged 1 year+ and the skin is pink and sore you probably don’t need to call a doctor. Mild burns in older babies can be treated yourself.

Here is a complete list of emergency service phone numbers across the world.

 Quick reference guide to treat baby sunburn

A second-degree sunburn is more serious and can last a couple of weeks, but in most cases your baby is likely to have a first-degree burn, which is the mildest form of sunburn. This will usually heal in about 3-5 days and it’s something you can treat yourself.

During treatment your baby’s skin may begin to peel, but don’t panic. This usually happens after a few days and is a natural part of the healing process as the skin gets rid of damaged cells.

Follow our handy flowchart for advice on how to treat your tot…

We’d love to hear your baby suncare tips in the comments!

 

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