With summer slowly creeping up, now is a good time for new parents to start thinking about how they will be spending outdoor time safely with their baby.

A baby’s skin is very sensitive and can burn easily, so sensible sun protection is necessary from the day they are born. When UV levels are 3 and above always protect baby’s skin from direct UV exposure.

Aim to minimise time (or take particular care) outside during the middle of the day, particularly during the summer period as UV levels are at their peak and the risk of sunburn and skin damage is significantly increased.

The most effective form of sun protection for babies is sensible clothing that covers as much skin as possible, a hat and shade when UV levels are 3 and above.

Shade may include covers or cloths over prams, strollers or play areas. It also includes trees and man-made structures.  Clothing should be loose fitting and made from densely woven material. You may also decide to purchase clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). If so look for a UPF 50+ for the very best protection.

When it comes to babies and sunscreen the message is simple – sunscreen should not really be required if you dress your baby appropriately in clothing that covers most of their skin, a hat and seek out shade whenever possible. And because very young babies (less than 6 months) absorb more of any chemical applied to the skin than adults, the wide spread regular use of chemical (or absorbers) sunscreen is not recommended by the Australasian College of Dermatologists.

However, if direct UV exposure to your baby’s skin is unavoidable then applying a small amount of sunscreen to those small areas of exposed skin 15-20 minutes before going outdoors is still recommended. If sunscreen is required choose a “reflector” or “physical” sunscreen which is best for young skin (*see below). It is also recommended that if using a new sunscreen always patch test first on a small area of baby’s skin to ensure there are no reactions, and whilst skin reactions to sunscreens are relatively rare they do occasionally occur.

When UV levels are low (below 3) sun protection is generally not required and some direct UV exposure is considered safe and healthy for babies. However, if spending longer periods of time outdoors during low UV periods, it is still recommended that your baby is wrapped or dressed in clothing that covers as much skin as possible, wears a hat and is kept in the shade.

A SunSmart Tip for Parents – download the free SunSmart App.

*Blocking, reflecting or physical sunscreens work by reflecting UV radiation away from the skin (as opposed to absorbing).  Active ingredients include zinc oxide and titanium oxide. These sunscreens may take on a more milky-white appearance when applied and can be thicker making them sometimes more difficult to apply. 

For more information contact Cancer Council 13 11 20 or visit www.actcancer.org