Sun Safety for Babies and Children

  • By: The DIG for Kids
  • Time to read: 4 min.

When I was a kid, I loved running about on the beach all day wearing a swimsuit and rarely, if ever, worrying about sunscreen. If we had known in the 1970s what we know now, my mum would have made sure I slipped, slopped and slapped with the best of them!

Slip, slop, slap

‘Slip, slop, slap’ is an Australian saying that stands for ‘slip on a T-shirt, slop on the sunscreen and slap on a hat’. It has been adopted in many countries and it’s an easy one for kids to remember, so make sure your children know about it so they can stay safe whether on the beach or out and about on a sunny day.

The reason children are so susceptible to the harmful effects of the sun is that their skin is much thinner and therefore more vulnerable to sun exposure. Did you know that a child’s skin can burn in as little as 10 minutes? Research has shown that six episodes of serious sunburn before the age of 18 doubles the risk of developing skin cancer as an adult.

Protecting Children

Sunscreen with a high protection factor (SPF) is essential. Apply it 15-30 minutes before going outside so that it has a chance to be absorbed by the skin and apply again once outside. Some sunscreens are now coloured so you can see where it has been applied. Babies should never be left in the direct sun as they can burn and overheat very quickly. Instead, place pushchairs in the shade whenever possible and always carry a sun canopy.

Keeping children in the shade and out of the sun whenever possible is the simplest way to protect them, but remember that shade can be lost as the sun moves.

Older children should remember the slip, slop, slap rule whenever they play outside in the summer. A good pair of wraparound sunglasses will protect their eyes from the sun’s rays, and try to buy ones that offer 100% UV protection.

Cover children with cool, close-weave baggy clothing – cotton and linen are especially suitable – and remember to change clothing after playing in water, as wet clothing can lose up to half of its UV protection. You can now buy children’s swimwear that looks like mini wetsuits, with sleeves and legs. These are the complete cover up option offering a ultra-violet protection factor (UPF) of 50+.

If you’re on holiday and the kids are in and out of the pool or the sea, remember that sunscreen (even the waterproof kind) can wash off, so always reapply it after swimming or water play.

Slapping on a hat is the best way to avoid sunstroke, which can be brought on when the head is overheated. Make it a wide brimmed one as opposed to a baseball cap style if you can, as the brim protects the face and the back of the neck as well. For children, the type of legionnaire’s hat with the piece of cloth that covers the back of the neck is ideal.

Whether abroad or in the UK seek the shade between 11am and 3pm to avoid the sun at its strongest ultraviolet levels. A leisurely lunch in a taverna or under the shade of an awning or umbrella in the garden is the perfect way to avoid the heat of the day.

The Facts About UV Rays

Another point to consider is that harmful UV rays can be reflected by different surfaces, for example fresh snow reflects up to 80% and beach sand up to 25% of UV rays.

Don’t forget that it is possible for children to get burnt by summer sun in Britain. Even when it is overcast, some 30-50% of solar UV radiation can still get through, and up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate a light cloud cover.

The level of UV reaching the earth’s surface varies according to the weather, the time of day/year, location (proximity to the equator), the altitude and the amount of ozone in the atmosphere.

The Solar UV Index

Met office forecasters use the Solar UV index to give people an idea of how quickly they might get burnt:

  • 1-2 – all skin types are at low risk and it’s safe to be outside
  • 3-4 – low risk for most skin types, but those with fair or sensitive skin that burns easily should use added protection.
  • 5-6 – all skin types need protection, but black skin is less at risk. Avoid the midday sun.
  • 7+ – everyone should cover up, use protection and seek shade/stay out of the sun where possible.

The index progresses from 1 to 20 but rarely gets beyond 10 in Britain.

If you are travelling abroad with your kids, then there is a great deal of information on our travel safety site at Take a look at the travelling with kids section.

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