Sun protection for babies and children

For many children summer is the best time of year: School's out, the weather is great and maybe there is even an exciting holiday planned with the family. Even the very littlest ones love to play in the same and splash in the water. Yet many parents underestimate an almost invisible risk; the sun's aggressive UV rays! Whilst many adults actively work on their tan, children, on the other hand, must be protected.

What does the sun do to the skin?

Sunlight is made of infrared and ultraviolet radiation (UV). Infrared radiation is what causes the pleasant warm feeling on the skin. This is also used for medicinal purposes in the form of infrared lamps. UV radiation, on the other hand, penetrates deep into the skin and is not initially perceptible. However, its consequences are more protracted and much more serious. Unprotected contact with UV radiation can lead to the following:

  • Premature skin ageing
  • Sunburn
  • Skin cancer

Every single skin layer and thus the overall skin of babies and young children is very thin. Adult skin is at least five times thicker than that of children. Moreover, pigment production is not fully complete in children. This intrinsic protection against UV radiation which allows adults to spend a few minutes in the sun without any risk is therefore missing in children.

That's why your little one faces twice the risk: sunburn in children is not simply a slight redness but a serious burn. What's more, every incident of sunburn increases the risk of suffering from skin cancer over the course of one's lifetime. And if you experienced sunburn as a child, the risk of subsequently getting cancer is increased many times over.

When can babies be exposed to the sun?

Babies should be completely kept away from direct sunlight for the first year. In the warm and sunny months of the year, you should avoid the midday sun with your child between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. If possible make sure that your baby is indoors or in another cool, shaded place during this time. Set up sunshades and awning outdoors. However, make sure that the heat cannot up below these shades. Walks, doctors' appointments and play dates should ideally be scheduled for the morning or evening when the sun's rays are not so intensive.

Children above the age of one can be exposed to the sun, subject to taking the necessary precautions. To avoid sunstroke and sunburn, you should continue to avoid the midday sun on hot days. If your child wants to splash around in the water, set up a suitable shady area as the water reflects the rays, that's why sunburn can occur more quickly in the proximity of water.

What kind of sun protection do children need in the form of clothes?

Baby clothes can protect against the sun's rays. To prevent your children from getting too hot in summer, you should dress him or her in light, loosely fitting clothes which cover up as much skin as possible. Special sun protective clothing which has been certified to the UV standard 801, for example, does not allow any UV radiation to penetrate and thus guarantees reliable protection. Tightly woven cotton clothing is also well suited for summer. As the downy hair on babies' heads is still too thin to protect the scalp from the sun, babies should always wear a head covering. Hats with an all-round brim, baseball caps and models offering ear and neck protection are well suited for protecting against sunstroke. Choose a head covering in a light colour to prevent your child's head from heating up too much underneath. In many cases, a good head covering also protects your child's eyes from the sun. There may be additional glare in the mountains and by the water which is why sunglasses are also necessary. Make sure that sunglasses bear the CE marking and are UV400-certified.

The feet are also very prone to sunburn. That's why children should wear thin socks and not walk around barefoot. A positive side effect: socks provide slight protection against sharp stones and insect bites.

When your child comes out of the water, dry him or her off thoroughly so that no drops of water remain on the skin. After all, these can work like a burning lens in direct sunlight and strengthen the effect of radiation on the skin.

Although window glass blocks out dangerous UVB radiation, UVA radiation can penetrate through unimpeded. These rays can also cause long-term damage to babies' skin. For this reason, you should attach additional sun protection to the window when travelling with your child in the car or if the sun shines into your child's room.

More sun protection tips

You should use suncream sparingly on children under the age of one. Since children are able to absorb more chemicals via their skin and barely sweat, even after this age the extensive use of cream is not recommended. Instead, sun protection specially developed for babies and children should be applied specifically to those areas of the skin which cannot be protected by clothing, e.g., the face and hands.

Baby oil is not suitable as a care product in sunlight as it makes the skin even more sensitive the sun's rays. You should also not use your suncream on your child but, instead, opt for special products which are tailored to the particular requirements of children's skin.

Suncream suitable for children:

  • Has a high sun protection factor – 30 or, even better 50
  • Contains no chemical filters or other substances which can trigger allergies.
  • Contains no alcohol and does not have a gel-like consistency (both can dry out children's skin)

Sun protection is washed off when we sweat, go into the water, shower and play in the sand. As such, cream should be reapplied at regular intervals, at the latest every two hours, to maintain a good level of protection. If your child has been in the water, reapply suncream directly afterwards or after showering.

How to deal with sunburn

Unfortunately, children cannot always be protected from sunburn when playing outdoors. If you notice red, sore areas on your child's skin, you should cool these. Place a towel which has been soaked in cool water and wrung out on the burnt area. The towel should be exchanged after around 20 minutes. Do not repeat too often as this can cause hypothermia. If the skin starts to itch, apply a soothing lotion or gel to relieve the itching sensation and to moisturise the dry skin. Avoid "tried and true" remedies such as quark, these can cause allergic reactions in children.

Another serious consequence of the sun, which can occur irrespective of sunburn, is sunstroke. The symptoms of this are nausea, vomiting, headaches and drowsiness and it can occur if your child's head or neck is exposed to the sun's warm rays for too long.

If large areas of your child's skin are burnt, if he or she is in pain due to the burns or if you note signs of sunstroke, you must act rapidly. Take your child out of the sun and move to a cool, shaded place. Drinks and cool towels can be used to lower the body temperature whilst you consult a pediatrician.

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