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Staying safe in the Australian sun

Blog post | 04 Dec 2019

Damage from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation can be life-long. Protecting babies and children’s skin from an early age against harmful UV rays will help reduce kids’ risk of skin cancer later in life.

UV radiation changes our skin cells, and the more exposure and damage you get, the less likely your skin will be able to repair itself. Skin cancer can develop when these skin cells are damaged and grow back abnormally.

There are 3 types of skin cancer:

  • melanoma - the most serious type of skin cancer, melanoma can spread to other organs in the body
  • basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma - both are more common but less likely to spread to other parts of the body

Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of melanoma in the world, and melanoma is the third most common cancer both in men and women.

Protecting your baby's skin

Most areas of Australia experience high levels of UV radiation all year round. Even on cloudy or cooler days, it’s still possible for UV rays to damage your skin.

Babies and young children have very delicate skin, so you should be especially careful to limit their time in the sun. Babies under 12 months should always be kept out of direct sunlight.

That doesn’t mean you should not leave the house with your baby, but when they are outside, it’s important to follow these handy tips to keep them protected:

Slip on loose-fitting clothing that covers as much of the baby’s skin as possible. Try to find clothing that provides sun protection-rated UPF 50 (ultraviolet protection factor 50).

Slop on sunscreen. For babies over 6 months, apply sunscreen 15–20 minutes before going outside and reapply every 2 hours. Sunscreen is not recommended for babies under 6 months.

Slap on a hat that protects your baby’s face, neck and ears.

Seek shade. Whether they are out in the open, in their pram or in the car, make sure your baby is well shaded from the sun. Be careful not to cover the pram so your baby doesn’t overheat.

Slide on some sunglasses. You can find sunglasses for babies with soft elastic to keep them in place.

Slip! Slop! Slap! Seek! Shade!

Read more here about sun protection for babies and children.

Is sunscreen safe?

Sunscreen is a lotion or liquid spray that contains certain chemicals to either absorb or reflect harmful UV radiation. These chemicals, along with the other ingredients that make up sunscreen, have been tested and approved, with no evidence to suggest they are harmful to children or adults.

What about sunscreen for babies under 6 months?

Regular use of sunscreen is not recommended for babies under 6 months. Young babies’ skin is very delicate and can absorb more of the chemicals contained in sunscreen. Although there has been no report of any side-effects, it’s best to limit sunscreen and instead keep your baby out of the sun and well covered.

Can I use sunscreen if I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?

During pregnancy, your skin can become more sensitive, so it's important to cover up and protect yourself. Sunscreen is safe to use during pregnancy and when breastfeeding, but some sunscreens contain an insect repellent called DEET. While DEET is generally considered to be safe, make sure to follow the recommended usage from the manufacturer and if you are unsure, speak to your doctor.

Don’t kids need vitamin D to help them grow?

Although UV radiation is harmful, the sun is also the best source of vitamin D, which helps to develop and grow healthy bones. Spending more time in the sun does not increase your vitamin D levels since the human body can only absorb a limited amount at a time.

Most people, including children, get enough vitamin D exposure just from day to day activities, like walking to the shops or hanging out the washing.

Starting young people with good habits

Teaching your kids from an early age about sun protection is the best way to encourage them to look after their skin as they get older.

Putting on sunscreen and wearing a hat and sunglasses should all be part of the daily routine when getting ready to play outside or leave the house.

Early childhood centres, primary and secondary schools are also required to have sun protection practices in place.

The Cancer Council runs SunSmart programs in early childhood facilities and primary schools that assist and recognise good sun protection behaviours.

Find out more about SunSmart in your area on the Cancer Council website.

More information

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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