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Keeping the Kids Safe in the Sun

With the weather taking a rather sudden sunny turn and with summer around the corner, I thought now would be a great time to talk about sun safety. At Mini First Aid, we want to make it as easy as possible for families to stay safe in the sun, whether you're holidaying abroad or at home. Don't forget that even on a cloudy day in the UK, your child’s delicate skin can burn.

So how can I make sure my family are safe in the sun?

Be mindful of the time of year, and time of day!

In a hot holiday destination, you need to be careful all year round, and especially between the hours of 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its strongest.

In the UK parents should take particular care of their children’s skin between the months of March and October.

Always keep children aged under 6 months out of direct sunlight, especially in the middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest – their young skin doesn’t contain enough melanin, the pigment that gives skin, hair and eyes their colour, and provides some protection from the sun. And most sunscreens generally aren’t suitable for babies under 6 months.

So on a hot day, whether abroad or at home, aim to spend plenty of time in the shade between 11am and 3pm.

Wearing the right clothes / hats / sunglasses is super important

Cover babies and children up with suitable clothing, ideally light long sleeved layers and long trousers if they are going to be in the sun for a long time. On the beach, rash vests or long-sleeved / legged costumes are a great option for sun safety.

Don’t forget a hat, which should be wide brimmed to shade the face, neck and ears, or have a long flap at the back.

Wraparound sunglasses are the best option for children. When buying sunglasses make sure they carry both the British Standard Mark 12312-1:2013 E and CE kite marks.

Understand how to use sunscreen safely

It’s not just a case of slapping anything on and hoping for the best. Be mindful of the following:

·      babies and children should be using AT LEAST SPF30 sunscreen. Make sure the product you are using also protects against both UVA and UVB rays (for more on this see below)

·      sunscreen should ideally be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure, to all exposed parts of the body

·      when kids are swimming, sunscreen needs to be reapplied immediately after coming out of the water, even if it is “water-resistant”

·      reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, even when not playing in the water, as it can be rubbed off when sweating and the sun naturally “dries” it off our skin

·      make sure you use enough sunscreen and don’t apply too thinly as the amount of protection given is then reduced – if you are unsure, this is one instance where more is better!

·      make sure your sunscreen has not passed its expiry date – most sunscreens have a 12 month limit on their ability to protect skin once opened, indicated by a little “open pot” symbol on the packaging. Otherwise you are just slathering your child in what is essentially expensive moisturiser!

Do a skin test

I’ve lost track of the amount of sunscreen products my daughter's skin has reacted to with itchiness, soreness or hives. Make sure that you test any new products on a small patch of skin BEFORE you go on holiday / on a day out so you don’t risk a skin reaction when you land poolside / on the beach – I can tell you from bitter experience that packing up to go home for the day because you don’t have the right sun protection is the worst!

What is SPF and star-rating?

You will not be the first parent utterly bamboozled by the array of suncare products available, and the acronyms used in sun protection. Basically, the skin needs to be protected from 2 types of the sun's radiation: UVB and UVA.

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and is a measure of the amount of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) protection that a product gives you. An SPF of 50+ offers the strongest form of UVB protection. It is recommended that a product with an SPF of at least 30 is used on babies' and children’s skin.

Ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) protection is measured by a “star rating”. On UK sunscreens you should see a star rating of up to 5 stars somewhere on the bottle. The higher the star rating, then the better the UVA protection your sunscreen will give you. For children’s skin, it’s recommended you use products with at least a 4 out of 5 star rating.

What do I do if my child gets sunburn?

Sometimes, even if you think you have taken all necessary precautions, your child’s skin may get sunburned. Here is our advice if this happens: 

For mild sunburn:

·      It sounds obvious but get out of the sun and into shade as soon as possible if you suspect sunburn - this will look pink or red on white skin, but can be difficult to spot on black and brown skin, which may look darker than usual when burnt

·      Cool your child’s skin with a cool shower or bath, or even a damp towel, but take care babies or little children don’t get too cold – allow to air dry if warm enough or pat skin gently with a soft towel

·      Encourage your child to drink lots of water or diluted squash to cool down and prevent dehydration. For bottle fed babies under 6 months, cooled boiled water can be offered in addition to their usual formula milk. For babies under 6 months who are exclusively breastfed, continue to offer breastmilk on demand. They might nurse more often in the heat.

·      A painkiller such as paracetamol can be given if your child is in pain from their sunburn

·      Keep sunburnt skin covered by clothing and out of direct sunlight until the skin has fully healed

Signs that it might be more serious:

Following an episode of sunburn, monitor your child for signs of heat exhaustion which include:

·      headache

·      floppiness and sleepiness

·      dizziness / confusion

·      loss of appetite / feeling sick, or being sick

·      excessive sweating and pale clammy skin - this can be harder to see on black and brown skin which may look grey or ashy in tone

·      a high temperature of 38C or above

.      fast breathing or heartbeat

·      excessive thirst

Cooling your child down is the priority (see above for advice on how to do this) – they should start to feel better within 30 minutes. If not, this could indicate heatstroke which is much more serious and should be treated as a medical emergency by calling 999.

If you have any concerns about your child following an episode of sunburn, call 111 or seek GP help urgently. Heatstroke is a medical emergency and you should call 999 immediately if suspected.

Whatever you and your family have planned for the summer, we hope you have lots of fun playing safely in the sun!

Hands up who has a nightmare every time they need to put sunscreen on their child?! It is no joke when it happens several times a day! That's where Dragons' Den winners Solar Buddies can help - refillable sunscreen applicators that your child can control themselves! The roller ball means waste and mess is reduced and the chunky bottle design is perfect for little hands. 

Maria Matthews is the owner of Mini First Aid Nottingham and Derby. Mini First Aid offers award winning First Aid training for parents/carers, classes for children, and First Aid Industry body accredited workplace training. Are you a parent or carer who wants to brush up on your First Aid skills? Why not attend one of our informal 2 hour baby and child first aid classes near you. Visit to find out more.

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