Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Australia, New Zealand, and the US, and it is a common misconception that babies and children are exempt from the danger of the sun’s harsh rays.
Ultraviolet Radiation (UV) is accumulative and the damage that causes skin cancer can begin at the very start of a person’s life in the sun. Two in three Australians will develop some form of skin cancer by the time they are 70 years old, according to the Cancer Council, and skin cancers generally form over years of sun damage, not instantly.
According to the Victorian Department of Health - Infants and children under four are particularly vulnerable to skin changes caused by UV radiation, and parents need to be proactive in protecting their children from the sun from the moment they are born.
Thin, delicate skin and lower levels of melanin place children at risk for sun damage that will only grow over time. The severity of sun exposure within the first 25% of someone’s life will make the difference as they age.
A Queensland Department of Health study found that exposure to the sun within the first 18 years of someone’s life is the most critical to determining their likelihood of developing skin cancer and sun damage later in life. Every additional decade spent exposed to the harsh Australian sun increases the risk of sun damage and cancer, so the best thing we can do is to keep the younger generation protected as early as possible.
So, how CAN I protect my baby from the sun?
The Cancer Council and the Australasian College of Dermatologists do not recommend sunscreen for babies under six months old, however, there is a range of actions you can take to protect the littlest among us.
Knowing the day's UV index puts you at an advantage as babies should be kept away from sunlight as much as possible when the UV levels are above 3. Understanding the risk factor on a particular day will help you plan activities that are in the shade or indoors. It will also help inform you on how to dress your baby.
A common oversight is leaving your baby's feet exposed in the pram or not repositioning the pram's sun protection when sunlight shifts, particularly between the hours of 10 – 3 pm.
If the UV levels are below 3, it is safe and recommended that babies experience the fresh air and a short period of sunshine. If spending a long time exposed to UV rays, even very low ones, correct sun protection is needed.
The Cancer Council have a free resource for checking the UV levels of the day, which can be found here. In most parts of the country, UV rays reach above 3 for most of the year.
Children learn by watching, and the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby when it comes to UV exposure is to simply seek shade, slip-on clothing that covers as much skin as possible, slap on a broad hat, slop on sunscreen (only over 6 months old) and slide on some AS/NZS 1067:2016 rated sunglasses (find baby-friendly sunglasses here).
Baby Sunscreen, a summary…
Once your baby reaches 6 months old you can breathe a sigh of relief for many reasons with one of the milestones being the ability to use sunscreen. Mineral-based sunscreens are best for delicate skin, and they will be the best at blocking the sun from the top layer of the skin.
The Cancer Council supports the use of small amounts of sunscreen on babies from 6 months of age and highly suggests a patch test first to ensure no allergies are present.
Some of the best sunscreen for babies include:
Free from nasty chemicals, this sunscreen has a seal of approval from the National Eczema Association, making it safe for those with the most sensitive skin.
This Zinc based sunscreen is formulated for sensitive skin with nourishing ingredients such as aloe vera and vitamin E and is the perfect size for the nappy bag to reapply on the run.
A perfect choice for water babies, this sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and has broad-spectrum protection along with oat extract to soothe the skin.
This is one that parents may already have in their collection as the perfect primer under makeup and a family suitable option. It applies beautifully for four hours of water resistance and protects even the most delicate skin.
Protect the most sensitive among us…
Australia has incredibly high UV levels for most of the year. The best thing you can do for your little Aussie is to show them how to care for their skin under the sun from an early age. Seek, slip, slap, slop, slide with your children, keep an eye on those UV levels and use highly rated SPF, and you’ll be protecting your little ones more than you may realise.
Click the links below for further information around babies and the sun or explore our information here, to keep yourself and your family sun smart this summer.
Skin cancer - children - Better Health Channel
Preventing skin cancer | Cancer Council
Fact sheet - Sun protection and babies (0-12 months) - National Cancer Control Policy
Sun protection for babies and children | Cancer Council NSW