How to keep babies and children safe in the sun

Little girl sun cream

Bright sunlight and heat will not only make babies ratty, it could also seriously damage their skin. Sunscreen will help protect your child from UVA and UVB rays, but that's not the only thing which will keep them safe in the sun. Whether you're heading abroad this summer or holding out for sunny days at home, find out how to keep babies safe and which sunscreens are best for young skin.

Why do I need to protect my baby from the sun?

Sun plus kids can mean a suncream battle – but with skin cancer incidences in the UK increasing nearly 50% over the last decade, it is more important than ever to instill healthy skincare habits in your children from an early age.

It's likely we've all experienced sunburn at some point. Who hasn't underestimated the rays in the Costa Del Basingstoke? In the short term, sunburn is painful, and peeling skin can cause scars or disfiguring. In the long term, exposure to the sun can increase your child's risk of cancer, and just one incidence of sunburn in childhood can increase their risk of melanoma, which can be fatal.

We've all heard the famous “Slip, Slop, Slap” advice – but how do you actually keep children safe in the sun?

How long can my baby be in the sun?

Baby sunglasses

Babies under six months should be kept out of direct sunlight, as their skin does not have enough melanin to protect them from the sun.

If your baby is older than six months, they should still be kept out of the sun as much as possible, especially between 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its highest. You'll need a parasol or sunshade on your pushchair if you go out.

Is suncream suitable for babies?

Most suncreams are not advised for babies under six months and their skin is particularly sensitive at this age, so you should keep them out of the sun entirely.

If your baby is over six months old, exposure to the sun should be kept to a minimum and you should apply a sensitive, hypoallergenic sunscreen regularly – particularly if they are in and out of the sea or a paddling pool.

Can you get burned in the shade?

Yes, you can still get sunburnt out of direct sunlight. You can also burn on cloudy days, and if it's windy, you may not feel the heat of the sun that would otherwise tell you when it's time to go indoors.

How can I keep my child safe in the sun?

The NHS recommends that babies and children are protected from the harmful rays of the sun between March and October.

  • Keep your children out of the sun between 11am and 3pm when it is at its strongest.
  • If your child isn't walking yet, then let them sit and play in the shade – not in direct sunlight.
  • Protect your child's shoulders and the back of their neck if they're out playing – these are really common areas to get sunburnt.
  • Cover your child up in loose cotton clothes with long sleeves. Natural fibres will help the skin to breathe.
  • Put a sunhat on your baby or child, to shade their face and neck – even if they've got a full head of hair.
  • Your baby should wear sunglasses as early as possible to prevent damage to their eyes.
    This might be easier said than done – so you might find a wraparound style will help them stay on longer. Sunglasses that carry the CE mark and meet the British Standard (BSEN 1836:2005) should also be worn. UV400 labels will tell you that they offer 100% protection from UV rays.
  • Make sure your child stays hydrated during hot weather.

If you're breastfeeding, your baby won't need water as well, but they might want to be fed more often. If you're bottle feeding, you should give your baby cooled boiled water throughout the day, on top of their regular feeds.

Bottle-fed babies who wake in the night during hot weather will most likely want milk – but if they've had their usual milk feeds, then give them cooled boiled water as well.

If your child is a little older, you should also make sure they drink plenty during hot weather. If they get bored with water and they're over six months, then you can try diluted fruit juice, ice cubes or homemade fruit ice pops throughout the day.

  • Apply and reapply sunscreen of factor 15 or above throughout the day. Use one that has UVA and UVB protection.

What's the best sunscreen for children?

Sunscreens vary widely, not just in terms of their SPF rating but also in application method. You should take into account your baby or child and how easy they are to pin down and rub cream into. Lotions offer a more reliable coverage than sprays, but if you've got a wriggler on your hands, a spray might be a better idea.

Boy beach sun cream

Spray sunscreens now come in invisible and white options. The invisible is better if your kid is a particularly good runner (away from you, we mean) as they won't be covered in streaks, but you may prefer the reassurance of the white stuff to see where's covered. You can also get fun coloured stuff these days that disappears when rubbed in, which might make them more inclined to stay put for half a minute. We say “might”.

What SPF is best?

SPF 15 should be the absolute minimum and you should make sure your sunscreen offers UVA and UVB protection. SPF 30 is optimal, as there is some evidence to suggest that people who wear factor 50 are actually more likely to forget to reapply it, and tehrefore end up burning.

Contrary to what you might think, SPF30 is not twice as strong as SPF15. SPF15 filters out 93% of UVB rays, whereas SPF30 protects you from 97% – so there is only a small improvement in the latter.

Do I have to use a sunscreen that is specifically for children?

Children's skin is more sensitive than adults', so you should find a mineral-based sunblock, one that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These act as a mirror and are not absorbed into the skin, so are less likely to cause irritation.

If your child is fine with the suncream you use, then there is no harm in continuing to use it. Some parents find that the agents that make kids' suncream waterproof irritate their children's skin, so you may find that non-waterproof is better – so long as you remember to keep applying it, of course.

Best value sunscreens

Aldi Lacura Suncare Spray SPF30 (200ml), £2.79

Aldi Lacura Suncare Spray SPF30 (200ml), £2.79

"I use Aldi suncream on my two children, and my son is a redhead with very pale skin. It's great - no burning and no rashes so far."

Only available in store at Aldi

Tesco Soleil Light Lotion SPF30 (200ml), £3.50

Tesco Soleil Light Lotion SPF30 (200ml), £3.50

My children react to suncream and we spent a fortune trying out many different brands.We ended up using Tesco own-brand cream and it was the only one they didn’t react to. It was cheap too!"

Get it from Tesco

Best spray sunscreens for fidgety kids

Banana Boat Ultramist spray lotion SPF50 (175ml) £6

Banana Boat Ultramist spray lotion SPF50 (175ml) £6

"Spray into the hand to rub on the face but elsewhere spray directly. It's not thick and oily or pore blocking."

Buy now from Amazon

Garnier Ambre Solaire Dry Mist Spray SPF30 (200ml), £7

Garnier Ambre Solaire Dry Mist Spray SPF30 (200ml), £7 Buy it from Boots

Piz Buin Protect and Cool Refreshing Sun Mousse SPF15 (150 ml) £8.99

Piz Buin Protect and Cool Refreshing Sun Mousse SPF15 (150 ml) £8.99

"The solution for us was the Sun Mousse. It solved all apparent sun/skin allergy problems. So nice that we still use it now, years later."

Get it at Superdrug

Best sunscreens for sensitive skin

Piz Buin Allergy Sensitive Lotion SPF30 (200ml), £7

Piz Buin Allergy Sensitive Lotion SPF30 (200ml), £7 Get it from Amazon

Nivea Sun Kids Protect and Sensitive Sun Lotion (200ml) £10.99

Nivea Sun Kids Protect and Sensitive Sun Lotion (200ml) £10.99 Available from Amazon

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Sun Cream Fluid SPF 50+ £16.50

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Sun Cream Fluid SPF 50+ £16.50

"When my son had eczema I used La Roche-Posay suncream as it was recommended by his dermatologist. It is gorgeous - goes on like moisturiser - but is expensive."

Get it at Boots

UltraSun SPF30 Family Ultra Sensitive Sun Cream (150 ml) £19

UltraSun SPF30 Family Ultra Sensitive Sun Cream (150 ml) £19 Get it from John Lewis

Green People Organic Scent-Free Sun Lotion SPF30 (200ml) £22

Green People Organic Scent-Free Sun Lotion SPF30 (200ml) £22 Get it here

Sunsense Sun Protection Ultra SPF50 (500ml) £33

Sunsense Sun Protection Ultra SPF50 (500ml) £33

"Try Sunsense. My son has a lot of allergies and the specialist recommended it."

Available from John Lewis