Reviewed by Donna Davis, M.S.
My daughter was born during the summer months and as we gradually spent more and more time outside, I wondered how best to protect her from the hot summer sun. Like all babies, her skin was sensitive and could have easily been damaged and burned. Even a few minutes in the bright sunshine can burn unprotected skin (CDC, 2000), and sunburn can be especially painful and serious for babies (Health Canada, n.d.).
If you have a new baby or child of any age, you don’t need to stay home to keep her or him safe from the sun. Being outdoors offers fresh air and exercise for overall health. But do take precautions to protect children from the sun’s harmful rays.
Protecting Babies from Sun
Your baby can’t tell you the sun is too hot or too bright, and can’t move out of the sunlight. So, you will need to make sure your baby is out of the sunshine and covered in other ways.
Health experts recommend that parents take the following steps to prevent sunburn and skin damage as well as dehydration that may come from too much heat.
- Avoid exposing babies under one year old to the sun. Keep them in the shade, “under a tree, an umbrella, or a stroller canopy” (Health Canada, n.d.).
- Dress infants in clothing that covers them, such as lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and wide brimmed hats (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2006).
- “When adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply” a little sun screen “to small areas, such as the infant's face and the back of the hands” (American Academy of Pediatrics). Use a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 and UVA/UVB protection.
Protecting Children from Sun
While enjoying the beautiful outdoors, parents also need to protect their children, and themselves, from the sun’s damaging rays. “Just a few serious sunburns” or even too much tanning over long periods of time, can dramatically “increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life” (CDC, 2000, p. 1; Maguire-Eisen, Rothman, & Demierre, 2005). One sunburn may double a child’s risk for developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer (Maguire-Eisen, Rothman, & Demierre, 2005).
Unfortunately, every year more than one million Americans, including children, are being diagnosed with skin cancer (Maguire-Eisen, Rothman, & Demierre; Sun Safety Alliance, 2005), and more than 10,000 (more than one per hour) will die from the disease. This is “more than all other types of cancer combined” (Sun Safety for Kids, 2001). Even as skin cancer is becoming more common in children, only about one third to one half of children and their parents are taking even basic steps to prevent sun damage (CDC, 1999; Maguire-Eisen, Roghman, & Demierre; Sun Safety Alliance, 2005).
Health care experts recommend that parents take precautions to protect their toddlers, preschoolers, and older children from too much sun.
- Keep children out of the sun between the hours of 10 or 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is strongest.
- Dress children in clothing that covers them up--a long sleeved shirt, pants, and a wide brimmed hat that shades the face, scalp, ears and neck. In hotter climates like Florida’s, a tee shirt, beach cover up and long shorts are also good choices (CDC, 2000), when combined with plenty of sunscreen and staying in the shade as much as possible. Special sun protection clothing can also be purchased that shields children from UV ray exposure (Maguire-Eisen).
- Provide sunglasses that protect your child’s eyes from UV rays. Look for “broad spectrum” protection that blocks close to 100% of UVB and UVA rays, absorbs UV light, and wraps around the eyes (CDC, 2000; Maguire-Eisen).
- Use plenty of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, every time your child goes outside. Apply it at least 30 minutes before heading out and use it even on cloudy days. Make sure to apply a thick dose and remember to cover the backs of knees, ears, under the eyes, and the neck and scalp. Don’t forget to reply every two hours, or more after swimming or heavy perspiration. Even in cool and cloudy weather, children need protection.
- If your child looks even a “little pink” get her or him out of the sun to prevent further burning. It can take up to 12 hours for skin to show the effects of sun exposure (CDC, 2000).
- Keep sunscreen handy, in your car, bag, or child’s backpack. Fun things to do outdoors do come up, so be prepared.
Parents, you are a role model for your child, so protect your own skin as well. Many parents take the steps to protect their children but not themselves (Dermatology Nursing, 2005). Your children learn basic health habits from you, including sun safety.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2006). Summer safety tips part I. Retrieved May 30, 2006 from
Centers for Disease Control. (2000). Play it safe in the sun: A guide for parents. Retrieved May 30, 2006.
Centers for Disease Control (1999). Preventing skin cancer. Atlanta, GA: CDC [Online version]. Retrieved May 31, 2006
Dermatology Nursing. (2005). Skin cancer news: Survey finds parents aren’t using proper sun protection. Dermatology Nursing, 17, 387.
Health Canada. (n.d.). A parent’s guide to sun protection. Retrieved May 30, 2006.
Maguire-Eisen, M., Rothman, K., & Demierre, M. F. (2005). The ABCs of sun protection for children. Dermatology Nursing, 17, 419-433.
Sun Safety Alliance (2005). Sunscreen use down and skin cancer rates increase. Press Release from June 6, 2005. Retrieved May 30, 2006
Sun Safety Alliance (n.d.). The facts about getting too much sun. Retrieved May 31, 2006.
Sun Safety for Kids (2001). Sun safety for kids. Retrieved May 31, 2006.