Active, out5 SunSmart stepsdoor play across the day throughout the year is important for health and development. Whenever you’re outside during the sun protection times, make sure the whole family are well protected, including the adults, by using these 5 SunSmart steps, even if it’s cool or cloudy.
1. Slip on covering clothing
If you can see skin, UV can reach it. Try to cover as much skin with cool, loose fitting clothing.
Clothing style tips
- Choose clothing and baby wraps made from cool, densely woven fabric that isn’t too tight and still allows air flow.
- Tops with elbow-length sleeves, and if possible, collars and knee-length or longer style shorts and skirts are best.
- If a child is wearing a singlet top or dress, don’t forget to cover up with a t-shirt or shirt before outdoor play.
- Layering clothing can help create more UV protection.
- Darker colours generally offer more protection than lighter colours.
- Use rashies or t-shirts for outdoor swimming. If using a t-shirt, don’t forget to change it when out of the water as dry t-shirts have a tighter fabric structure than wet ones.
2. Slop on SPF 30 or higher broad spectrum sunscreen
For any skin not covered by clothing, apply a generous amount of SPF 30 or higher broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen about 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every two hours. One application is not enough. Only use sunscreen with other forms of sun protection. Sunscreen should never be used to extend time in the sun.
Sunscreen tips for parents
- Choose a sunscreen that your child feels comfortable wearing and is easy to apply.
- Remember to reapply sunscreen after swimming or water play.
- When trying a new sunscreen on babies, test it on a small patch of skin first to make sure it is suitable. The Australasian College of Dermatologists recommends the use of a sunscreen ‘at any age when there is unavoidable exposure to the sun’ and states sunscreen is safe to use on babies. Many brands of sunscreen have a baby or toddler formula. These are just as protective, but much gentler on the skin. Look for sunscreens that have been tested for sensitive skin.
- From about the age of three, let children practise applying sunscreen so they can develop this skill ready for pre-school and school.
- Set up a sunscreen station in the bathroom at home so children can apply their sunscreen in front of the mirror and then wipe their hands.
- Pop sunscreen in the cooler section of the lunchbox so it will be cold when applying – especially nice on a hot, summer’s day.
- Try a clip on sunscreen that can hang from your child’s bag and act as a visual reminder.
- Remember role modelling – children learn best from what they see adults doing.
We know with 100% certainty that too much UV can cause skin and eye damage and lead to skin cancer. Regular use of sunscreen has been shown to reduce the incidence of melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma, both in the short and long term. Cancer Council would never recommend the use of a harmful or dangerous substance. All sunscreens in Australia are tightly regulated through the Therapeutic Goods Administration .
The risk of allergies and cross infection from sunscreen use is very small. If an allergic reaction to sunscreen does occur, it is usually caused by perfumes and/or preservatives in the product, not the chemicals that filter or block UV. If someone is experiencing an allergic reaction to a sunscreen, it may be good to look for a fragrance-free product such as a toddler or sensitive sunscreen.
Skin types and sunscreen use
Children at school and in care usually spend at least 60 minutes a day outdoors. It is important for children with naturally very dark skin to have some sun exposure during these periods. These children do not normally need to apply sunscreen because of the high level of melanin in their skin. This is a decision for their families to make. It is recommended that all children wear a hat (and sunglasses if appropriate) to protect their eyes.
3. Slap on a hat
A good sun protective hat shades the head, face, eyes, ears and neck. Bucket, wide-brimmed or legionnaire hats are best. Baseball caps do not offer enough protection for the cheeks, ears and neck, and are not recommended.
- For babies, choose a fabric that will crumple easily when they put their head down.
- For younger children choose a hat size that is proportional to the size of the child’s head and provides shade across the face and neck areas.
- For older children, a bucket hat should have a deep crown and angled brim which is at least 6cm. A wide brimmed hat should have a brim that is at least 7.5cm. The side flap and front peak of a legionnaire hat should meet to protect the side of the face.
- Hats that can be adjusted at the crown are best. If the hat is secured with a long strap and toggle, ensure it has a safety snap, place the strap at the back of the head or trim the length so it doesn’t become a choking hazard.
Many children do not like to wear hats. Persistence is needed to teach them that a hat is part of their outside routine. Children are more likely to wear their hat if their parents do too.
A note about head lice
Head lice have not been found to live in hats. Head lice very rarely fall from the head and require blood to survive. Head lice feed three to four times a day and without blood, will dehydrate in six hours in a dry climate and 24 hours in a humid climate. An egg requires warmth to hatch and is the reason why they are laid close to the scalp. The further away from the scalp, the less likely they are to survive. Hats do not provide the right conditions for head lice to survive and thrive. For further information see Department of Health – head lice and Better Health Channel.
4. Seek shade
Always be sure to keep babies under 12 months well protected and in the shade during the sun protection times.
Even in the shade, UV can reflect from surfaces such as sand, glass, brick and concrete, so still use a hat, clothing, sunscreen and sunglasses.
Choose play spaces with shade or take some with you.
- The shade moves with the sun, so be prepared to move around a bit and follow the shade.
- If using natural shade from a tree, where possible, look for dense foliage with a dark, even shady patch.
- Taking some portable shade with you ensures you won’t be caught out. Consider a beach or market umbrella or shade tent.
- When travelling, use a shade visor or hang a blanket over the side windows in the car. Side and back windows don’t offer as much protection as the front windscreen.
- When buying a pram, check that the hood can be adjusted, so that it can be moved to block out the direct sun. For the best protection, pram shade covers should completely cover the pram and be made of densely woven fabric that combines a mesh section – so the baby can see and air can circulate – and a shade fabric section. The fabric section should block close to 100% of UV radiation (UPF50+) and the mesh section should block at least 70% of UV radiation (UPF3.3).
5. Slide on sunglasses
Sunglasses are recommended any time you are outside to protect your eyes, which are particularly sensitive to the sun’s UV rays.
During the sun protection times, use a hat and/or sunglasses to protect your child’s eyes from UV radiation.
Toy or fashion-labelled sunglasses do not meet the requirements for sunglasses under the Australian Standard and should not be used for sun protection.
Look for sunglasses that:
- are a close fitting, wrap-around style that cover as much of the eye area as possible
- are labeled that they meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067:2003 (Sunglasses and fashion spectacles: sunglasses category 2, 3 or 4)
- have soft elastic to help keep them in place.