Sun safety tips for parents
Too much sun can be harmful. Babies and young children have sensitive skin that can be damaged easily by ultraviolet radiation from the sun. This page offers information and tips to help you keep your children safe.
Practice sun protection year-round. Children learn best from your example.
Why children are at risk
- Extreme heat from the sun can be dangerous for all children, especially infants and young children.
- Babies are not born with a developed skin protection system, so they burn more easily. Even children born to parents with dark skin need full protection.
- Babies have more sensitive skin because the outer layer of their skin is thinner.
- A young child has more skin (relative to body mass) than an adult, so sunburns can be very serious.
- A baby can't tell you when they're too hot or the sun's too bright. Your baby may begin to cry and you won't know whether they're tired, hungry, or hot.
- Babies can't physically move themselves out of the sunlight. A six-month old on a blanket is less mobile than a one-year old who can toddle into the shade.
- Babies totally rely on their caregivers to protect them from the sun and other related risks.
You and your baby or child can sunburn in only 15 minutes depending on the UV index value. If the UV index is low (from 0-2), the risk of getting too much sun is low, and no protection is needed. If the UV index is between 3 and 7, you need protection. A UV index higher than 8 calls for extra protection. In the tropics, the index could be higher than 10.
Sun safety tips
To keep you and your child safe, you should:
- Cover up. Wear light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat made from breathable fabric. When you buy sunglasses, make sure they provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Limit your time in the sun. Keep out of the sun and heat between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. When your shadow is shorter than you, the sun is very strong. Look for places with lots of shade, like a park with big trees, partial roofs, awnings, umbrellas or gazebo tents. Always take an umbrella to the beach.
- Use the UV Index forecast. Tune into local radio and TV stations or check online for the UV index forecast in your area. When the UV index is 3 or higher, wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and sunscreen.
- Use sunscreen. Put sunscreen on when the UV index is 3 or more.
- Drink liquids (especially water). If sunny days are also hot and humid stay cool and hydrated to avoid heat illness. Dehydration is dangerous and thirst is not always a good indicator of how often you should drink liquids.
- Avoid using tanning beds. If you do use them, understand the risks and learn how to protect yourself.
In extreme heat, some medications may increase your health risk and/or make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. Talk to your health care provider if you have any questions about your medication.
Tips for babies
- Keep babies under one year out of direct sunlight to prevent skin damage and dehydration. Never let them play or sleep in the sun.
- Keep babies in the shade, under a tree, an umbrella, or a canopy. Never leave children in a parked vehicle.
- Remember, sunscreen will protect against the sun's harmful UV rays, but will not protect children from the heat.
- Give lots of cool liquids. Water or breast milk are best.
- Do not put sunscreen on a baby less than 6 months old without asking your health care provider first.
- Never use baby oil to protect children from the sun. It will not protect them and will do them more harm.
Tips for children
- Follow the UV index readings each day to plan outdoor activities.
- The sun's UVB rays are strongest between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m and it is also usually the hottest time of day. Unless the child is protected, keep them out of the sun during these hours.
- In strong sunlight, have children wear a rimmed, breathable sun hat and sunglasses, and cover their skin with clothes or sunscreen.
- Get your children used to wearing sunscreen lotion early on. Pay close attention to the areas that are most exposed, like their face, lips, ears, neck, shoulders, back, knees, and the tops of their feet.
- Never let young children stay in the sun for long periods, even when wearing sunscreen.
Tips for teens
- Encourage teens to follow the sun safety tips above.
- Give teenagers sunscreen lotion if they are going to be outdoors for extended periods. Make sure they understand the importance of using it.
- Teach teens about sun safety, how to understand the UV Index, and the symptoms of sunburns and heat illness.
- Warn teenagers to avoid using tanning lamps and beds.
Sunscreen safety tips
Sunscreens are not meant to increase the amount of time your child can spend in the sun. They are only meant to increase their protection when they have to be outside.
- Choose a high SPF. Protect your health by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF)of at least 15. The sunscreen should also say "broad-spectrum" on the label, to screen out most of the UVA and UVB rays.
- Look for "water resistant". Look for claims on the label that the product stays on better in water ("water resistant", "very water resistant").
- Read application instructions. For best results, be sure to follow the instructions on the product label.
- Use lots of sunscreen. Use the recommended amount of sunscreen.
- Apply it early. Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside; reapply 20 minutes after going outside and at least every 2 hours after that. Use a generous amount. Cover exposed areas generously, including ears, nose, the tops of feet and backs of knees.
- Reapply often. Reapply sunscreen often to get the best possible protection especially if you are swimming or sweating heavily.
- Protect yourself. Sunscreen and insect repellents can be used safely together. Apply the sunscreen first, then the insect repellent.
- Sunscreens and babies. Do not put sunscreen on babies less than 6 months of age. Keep them out of the sun and heat as their skin and bodies are much more sensitive than an adult's.
- Test for an allergic reaction. Before using any tanning product on you or your child check for an allergic reaction, especially if you have sensitive skin. Apply it to a small patch of skin on the inner forearm for several days in a row. If the skin turns red or otherwise reacts, change products.
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