Sun safety is important for every Australian, so you can start developing safe sun habits with your little one from day one! Read on for tips to help keep your toddler cool and sunburn free, plus advice for how to help their sensitive skin if they do get too much sun.

Avoiding sunburn

Young children are particularly sensitive to the sun. Even on overcast days, when the sun is behind the clouds, adults and children alike can still get sunburned! To help prevent your little one getting too much sun, you can make sure to do the following:

Slip, slop, slap, slide, seek

For children under 12 months of age, it is best to keep them out of direct sun when the UV level is 3 or above. You can check UV levels at the Bureau of Meteorology UV and sun protection guide.

Some experts even suggest keeping children under six months out of the sun entirely, but others claim 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a day is part of healthy development. Chat to your GP, pediatrician or dermatologist about what is best for your baby based on their age and complexion. Anytime your child is in the sun, for any amount of time, they should always be protected by the five Ss:

Slip: Slip-on clothing to cover up the skin (including when going swimming), ideally something long-sleeved which covers the chest and back of the neck, but still loose enough that your child doesn’t overheat. Make sure to keep your little one’s fluids up on hot days.

Slop: Slop on some sunscreen. Chat to your doctor or pharmacist about sunscreen that is safe for your child’s age. Generally, sunscreen is not recommended for babies under six months, which is why some people prefer to avoid direct sun exposure all together at this stage.

Sunscreen should be in date, at least SPF30+ and ideally water-resistant – definitely water-resistant if you’re going swimming! Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure and reapply at least every two hours.

Slap: Slap on a hat! Ideally a broad brim or a bucket hat. Make sure it provides some shade for your little one’s face and neck.

Seek: Seek shade as much as possible. If you’re at the beach, bring an umbrella or beach tent. If you’re waiting for a coffee at the café, wait inside or in a shady spot outside. If you’re taking your toddler for a walk, put on a hat and choose the shadier side of the street.

Slide: Slide on sunglasses that fit your child’s head and won’t slip off. Look for UV protection category 2 or above.

Stay out of the sun: Do your best to avoid being out and about with your little one between 9 am and 4 pm. Sometimes this isn’t possible, but if you can postpone your trip to the grocery store, for instance, you might save your little one from some sun exposure.

Managing sunburn

Sometimes, even when we practise good sun safety habits, the Australian sun will burn us anyway! Ideally, your baby or toddler won’t be spending enough time in the sun to get a severe burn, but if you do find yourself with a slightly crispy kiddie on your hands, here are some things to consider:

  • Talk to your doctor and pharmacist. Sunburn is treated like a real burn, so you may need advice about age-appropriate lotions, ways to bandage or using paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce any pain and swelling.
  • Be cautious with burn creams; some of them contain anaesthetic which shouldn’t be used on a child, so always consult a pharmacist or health professional first.
  • Keep your child hydrated on hot days or when they have sunburn. Chat to your pharmacist about electrolyte drinks or icy poles for kids.
  • You can help burnt skin cool down by running it under lukewarm to cool water. Get your little one in the bath if you can. You can also apply a cool, damp cloth or muslin wrap to the affected area.
  • Avoid the sun for the next few days to give their skin a chance to recover.
  • Avoid soap or any fragranced lotions or cleansers.
  • Swap showers for gentle baths if you can, to minimise irritation.
  • Sunburn usually worsens over 24 to 48 hours. Your little one may be feeling dry and itchy. If they are over 12 months old, you can very gently apply a light, fragrance-free moisturiser, but check the product with your pharmacist first.

As your little one gets older, you can start teaching them how to be careful of the sun themselves. Try showing them how to apply sunscreen to their exposed skin, and helping them rub it all in. You can get them more involved in sun safety by offering two hats to choose from, or which shady tree to play under for a few minutes.

If the sunburn is more severe or you notice that your little one is suffering from one or more of the following symptoms, see your doctor:

  • There are blisters on the skin or the area looks very swollen or infected
  • Shaking, shivering, fever or unusual tiredness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain that cannot be controlled

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