Protect your child in the sun

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Dr James Booth explains how best to protect your little ones from the sun.

Children love playing outdoors especially in the sunshine but if you don’t protect their skin you could be risking their health.

A moderate amount of sunshine is good for all of us. It provides essential vitamin D, which we need for good health, it improves our mood and helps promote better sleep – just what you need if you have small children to entertain!

However, too much sun can be damaging. So protecting your child from the sun not only prevents painful sunburn but also reduces their risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

But how do you stay safe and still enjoy the sun?

As a parent the last thing you want to do is ruin your child’s fun. But children’s skin is far more sensitive than adults so it’s important to protect it from the sun.

Unpredictable weather often makes us forget about sunscreen. But even if it’s cloudy or overcast your child can still burn. So it’s worth getting into the habit of applying a sunscreen before your child goes out to play.

Try to encourage your child to stay in the shade when the sun's rays are at their strongest – usually between 11am and 3pm. If their skin is exposed to too much sun at peak times it can cause sunburn or heatstroke and increase the likelihood of cancer.

Apply a sunscreen that protects against harmful UVA and UVB rays. A sunscreen with a sun protection factor [SPF] of 50 gives the best protection. Re-apply sunscreen every couple of hours during a day in the sun, especially if your child is in and out of water. Water washes off sunscreen, and the cooling effect of the water masks the feeling of getting burned. Use a waterproof sunblock on delicate areas such as the shoulders, ears, nose and cheeks and always re-apply sunscreen after towelling.

Your child’s shoulders and neck are the most common areas for sunburn. So it’s important to keep them covered with loose clothing such as a baggy t-shirt with sleeves and a floppy hat that shades their face and neck. Don’t forget their eyes too. Protect them with sunglasses that meet the British Standard (BSEN 1836:2005) and carry the "CE" mark.

Minor sunburn is best treated at home. Sponge sore skin with cool water and apply soothing after sun or calamine lotion afterwards. Your local pharmacy can advise on over the counter treatment suitable for your child to help ease symptoms and reduce inflammation.
If your child feels unwell or their skin swells badly or blisters, call NHS111 for free medical advice - available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

For more information about how to keep your child safe in the sun, visit