As diligent as you may be about applying sunscreen and constantly banging on about wearing a hat and sun-protective clothing, sunburn can happen – and quickly too!

Sunburn occurs when the skin is exposed to too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Because a baby’s skin is so sensitive and delicate, it can start to burn after just 15 minutes.

UV damage cannot be seen or felt and it can happen even on cool, cloudy days.

While a healthy dose of sunshine is important – too little UV can lead to low vitamin D levels – too much UV exposure can cause not only sunburn, but skin and eye damage, and increase the risk of skin cancer.

Avoid the heat of the midday sun and head to the beach in the morning or afternoon when it’s cooler.

What are the symptoms?

Sunburn varies from mild redness on the skin to severe blistering, pain and swelling.
As the sunburn heals, it may blister, and then the skin gets dry and itchy and begins to peel.

How to prevent it?

The best way to prevent UV damage is the good old slip, slop, slap, seek and slide.

SLIP on clothes that cover as much of your child’s skin as possible.
SLOP on a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF30+ or above. The higher the SPF number, the more protection the sunscreen provides.
SLAP on a broad-rimmed, bucket or legionnaire-style hat.
SEEK out shade for your little one, and avoid going out during the hottest times of the day (10am to 3pm).
SLIDE on some shades, ensuring they meet Australian standards.

Can you put sunscreen on a baby?

Babies aged under six months have highly absorptive skin and the Australasian College of Dermatologists recommends minimising use of sunscreen.

Always patch test any product first on a small area of your baby or child’s skin for any negative reactions and apply sunscreen to areas of exposed skin that can’t be covered with hats and clothing.

If your baby or child has a reaction to sunscreen, seek medical advice.

What to do if you child has sunburn

The former CEO of Cancer Council Australia, Professor Sanchia Aranda has the following advice for treating mild sunburn.

“Apply a cool, damp muslin or cloth nappy to the skin. Offer plenty of water (or breastfeeds) as the real risk with sunburn is dehydration,” she says.

“For an older child, you can apply a light moisturiser, but don’t use anything that masks the skin as it will be harder to see any redness or blisters, and don’t apply to babies under the age of one.”

You can also offer your child paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce the pain and swelling. Make sure to follow the directions on the packet.

When to seek medical advice

“For anything more than a pink tinge on the skin, or blistering, see your GP, particularly in the case of young babies,” says Sanchia.

Other symptoms to watch out for include fever, nausea, vomiting or headaches.