We bust 7 myths about sun protection and suncare
Be sun safe this summer and help your little ones get the most out of the outdoors without risking their health with our guide to sun protection.
By Mumsnet HQ | Last updated Nov 29, 2022
The appearance of warmer weather and a bit of sun is always cause for celebration in the UK. There are plenty of good reasons to get you and your kids outdoors, from a good dose of fresh air and vitamin D, to opportunities for them to get closer to nature and enjoy all the sights and sounds of the outdoors that the British weather doesn’t always make possible.
It’s easier to remember to pack sunscreen when you’re jetting off to warmer climes, but sometimes we forget its daily importance at home. The skincare experts at NIVEA Sun have been proudly working with Cancer Research UK for the last 10 years, to help remind us all, but particularly us parents, of the importance of sun safety.
To celebrate a decade of their partnership, NIVEA Sun and Cancer Research UK have launched a campaign to remind us all about sun safety, whether in the UK or abroad, and have put the message in three simple steps we can all remember: Seek Shade, Cover Up, Apply Sunscreen.
But things can be a little more complicated where babies and children are concerned so the skin gurus at NIVEA Sun have also helped us to clarify the guidance on sun protection for babies and children and have fact-checked a few sun protection myths, to help you keep your family safe this summer.
Keeping your baby safe in the sun
Babies have particularly sensitive skin as they have not yet developed the melanin their skin needs to give basic protection, so they require extra-special care in terms of sun protection.
From birth to 6 months, you should:
Keep your baby out of direct sunlight at all times. The NHS advice says that between 11am and 3pm is the most important time, but infants under 6 months need to be shaded at all times. Even in the shade, it’s worth being aware that some UV light can filter in, through the branches of trees, for example.
Dress your baby in clothes that are light and cool but cover their skin as much as possible; that means long sleeves, high necks etc. And don’t forget feet burn easily, too, especially when barefoot in prams and buggies.
Make sure they wear a hat - a Legionnaire’s style (with the flappy bits round the ears) is better than a bucket style, which offers less protection.
“I rate the NIVEA Sun kids one. It’s nearly always on offer in Boots.”
As well as looking after their skin, it’s also important to ensure your baby is kept cool in hot weather and does not become dehydrated. The NCT says that a ‘little and often’ approach might be best in very hot weather, giving more, but smaller, feeds. Breastfed babies may require more feeds than usual but your milk automatically adapts to contain more water in hot weather so breastfed babies don’t need anything additional. Formula-fed babies may also require more feeds and can also be offered cooled, boiled water.
From 6 months on you should:
Continue to keep them out of the sun as much as possible, but especially in that crucial 11am to 3pm time slot. Don’t forget to take parasols for the buggy and other sunshades with you if you’ll be outdoors for long periods.
“Stay indoors during the hottest part of the day and keep him in the shade otherwise. Also beware that a muslin cloth or similar over the pram will trap heat like a greenhouse, it doesn't act as a shade. You need a proper UV shade for that.”
Apply a dedicated baby or child’s sunscreen regularly. The NHS advises using a brand that is specifically formulated for babies and children as adult brands may contain additives that might irritate sensitive young skin. Also check that the brand you buy protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
Keep a hat on them - preferably one that covers the whole of their head and also has neck and ear flaps. And lastly, encourage them to wear sunglasses to protect their eyes. When choosing your child’s sunglasses, look for ones that have a CE mark and conform to British safety standards - they should also be marked as UV400 and provide as close to 100% UV protection as possible.
Keeping toddlers and younger children sun safe
Toddlers and preschoolers are super active and just want to be outside as soon as they can, so you need to be quick and be thorough when it comes to sun protection.
As well as all the above, with toddlers it’s worth remembering the following:
Reapply sunscreen really regularly. Toddlers run around and move a lot and it will rub off on clothes, the lawn, your furniture… NIVEA Sun Kids Protect and Care Spray is great from the age of about 3 upwards. The coloured spray means it’s easy to see on all skin tones so you can make sure you have rubbed it all in properly. It’s also extra water-resistant…
…however, don’t think that because a sunscreen is described as water-resistant, it doesn’t need to be reapplied regularly if they’re in the pool or the sea. Remember there is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen.
Try to apply sunscreen around half an hour before they go outside - its protection isn’t always instant and it needs to sink into the skin.
Encourage them to sit down in the shade as well as running about, with a few games or a cool drink and fruit snack.
Setting good sun protection habits for older kids
As kids become more independent, and especially when they start school, you need to begin instilling a sense of sun safety in them:
- Teach them how to apply their own sunscreen and how to ask a friend to do any bits they can’t quite reach. NIVEA Sun’s Protect and Care Coloured Roll-on SPF50+ 50ml is easy and fun for children to apply themselves.
- Don’t forget to teach them about reapplication too - children are more likely to miss bits each time, so it’s important they understand why they need to keep putting it on.
- Make sure they have a decent hat and sunglasses that they will happily wear.
- Remind them of the times that the sun is at its hottest (particularly break time and lunchtime at school) and that staying in the shade where possible, wearing a hat and topping up their sunblock are all good ways to protect their skin.
- Ensure they have a refillable water bottle to stay cool and hydrated and remind them to drink and refill.
- Choose clothing for them that will add to their sun protection, such as rash vests for the beach or swimming, which give extra coverage on their shoulders and backs.
Sun protection for children with eczema and other allergies
If your child suffers from eczema, finding suitable sun care products can be tricky. As parents of eczema-sufferers will know, keeping the skin well moisturised and preventing it drying out is key to avoiding a flare-up.
“We tried all the pricey ones [for eczema prone skin] but nothing worked so we spoke to our GP who suggested a spray instead of a cream. In the end £5 NIVEA Sun spray is the best.”
NIVEA Sun Protect and Care products for kids contain Almond Oil which is a moisturising ingredient that softens the skin. The range helps support the skin’s protective barrier while also helping reduce the risk of sun allergies.
For a range that is developed specifically for use with eczema, try the NIVEA Sun Babies & Kids Sensitive Protect range, which contains organic Chamomile known for its skin soothing benefits. This range helps reduce the risk of sun allergies too.
Sunscreen myths and sun care facts
Uncertain about use-by dates? Unsure about SPF? We’ve covered a few of the most popular misconceptions about sunscreen.
Myth 1: My sunscreen is waterproof so doesn’t need reapplying after swimming/sweating
Water resistant sunscreen is really important if your kids are going to be swimming or paddling, or are just running around getting hot and sweaty. However, it’s not a panacea. While it will help give your child the extra protection needed in the water, you should reapply it when they come out of the water.
Myth 2: My sunscreen is SPF50 so doesn’t need reapplying as often
Sorry, no. The SPF number alters the strength of the protection, but not how long the protection lasts so you need to reapply just as regularly as lower SPF sunscreens.
Myth 3: There is SPF in my make-up so I don’t need sunscreen
Even if your SPF make-up did give you enough protection (it won’t - although every little definitely helps), you don’t put makeup on all the places you need sun protection so you aren’t really covered.
Moisturisers and foundations tend to go only on the face so don’t forget about your neck - front and back - decolletage and ears. If you find sunscreen too greasy on your face, look for dedicated face sunscreens which tend to sink in a bit more.
And lastly, you only put your make-up on once normally, whereas sunscreen needs to be reapplied regularly.
Myth 4: I don’t need sunscreen if it’s cloudy or cold
Untrue. Sunscreen really needs to be worn all year round, not just in summer, and not even just if you are outdoors either. The sun’s rays easily penetrate through clouds, so even if it looks like a grey day, you should slap on the sunscreen. On the weather app on most phones, you can see the UV index. If the UV index is 3 or above it means you need to protect your skin.
“We always used NIVEA Sun factor 50 on our children with eczema. Also worth getting a full body SPF swimsuit.”
Myth 5: People with dark skin don’t need sunscreen
Not the case. Although people with darker skin tones (meaning more melanin) are at less risk than those with lighter skin, it is still absolutely possible to burn and their skin is still susceptible to damage from the sun - that includes everything from wrinkles and sun spots to skin cancer.
Myth 6: You can’t get sunburn indoors
Unless you’re working in an underground bunker, you do still need to protect yourself indoors. Firstly, it’s unlikely that you won’t be outside at all on any given day, but also, you can get sun damage through a window or roof light. And it’s especially important to remember to apply sunscreen when you’re going to be in the car and can’t put yourself in the shade whenever you need to.
Myth 7: Sunscreen never expires
Sadly for all those of us who seem to have a medicine cabinet full of old bottles of sunscreen, it very much does expire. Check your sunscreen for a use-by date and also discard the product if it starts to look watery or discoloured.