Swim and Sun Safety for Children.
With the weather heating up, you may have questions about taking your baby or child to the pool, beach or generally outdoors where they might be in the sun and heat.
From what age is it ok to take a baby swimming in a public pool?
When your baby is eight weeks which is after their first vaccinations (not including birth vaccinations) Babies can’t regulate their temperature like adults, so it’s essential to make sure they don’t get too cold. If your baby is younger than six months, make sure the pool is heated to about 32° C. A large public pool would be too cold for a baby under 6 months. From about two months you can take them into a heated pool, but don’t keep them in the water for more than 10 minutes at first. Babies under 12 months should not stay in a pool for more than 30 minutes.
From what age is it ok to put sunscreen on a baby? What’s the alternative before this age?
Sunscreen is ok to use on babies older than six months. Younger babies should use other forms of sun protection. The best way to protect babies from the sun is to keep them in the shade as much as possible. Also, dress your baby in protective clothing, a hat with a brim and sunglasses. For newborns and babies under six months, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that is OK to apply a minimal amount of baby-safe sunscreen with an SPF of 30–50 to the face, back of the hands and tops of the feet. And for babies six months or older, you can apply a “baby safe” sunscreen with SPF 30–50 to all exposed areas of your little one’s body.
Why is it important to keep children safe in the sun? What are the dangers of too much sun exposure for small children and babies?
There is strong evidence that sun exposure and sunburns during childhood can increase the risk of skin cancer later in life.
What is the best practice guidance for keeping babies and children safe in the sun (especially in the UAE sun)?
Use sunscreen (according to age guidelines above). The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends that all kids — regardless of their skin tone — wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Whatever sunscreen you choose, make sure it is broad-spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays) and, if kids are in or near water, is labelled water-resistant. Apply a generous amount and reapply often.
Avoid the Strongest Rays of the Day. Try to stay in the shade when the sun is at its strongest (usually from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). If kids are in the sun during this time, apply and reapply sunscreen. Most sun damage happens from exposure during day-to-day activities, not from being at the beach. Remember that even on cloudy, cool, or overcast days, they can still get sunburnt.
Cover Up This is one of the best ways to protect the skin. Make sure clothes offer enough protection, put your hand inside garments to make sure you cannot see it through them.
Shade Babies have thinner skin and underdeveloped melanin, so their skin burns quickly. The best protection for babies under six months of age is shade, so they should be kept out of the sun whenever possible. If your baby must be in the sun, dress him or her in clothing that covers the body, including hats with wide brims to shadow the face. If your baby is younger than six months old and still has small areas of skin (like the face) exposed, you can use a tiny amount of SPF 15 sunscreen on those areas. Even older kids need to escape the sun. For outdoor events, bring along a broad umbrella or a pop-up tent to play in.
Wear Sunglasses Sun exposure damages the eyes as well as the skin. Even one day in the sun can lead to a burned cornea (the outer transparent membrane layer of the eye). Sun exposure over time can cause cataracts (clouding of the eye lens, which leads to blurred vision) later in life. The best way to protect eyes is to wear sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection.
Any ingredients to beware of or look out for in sun creams for babies and children? Is it necessary to have a cream formulated especially for children and if so, why?
When shopping for baby sunblock, look for a formula with an active ingredient list that contains only titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These are considered physical or mineral sunscreens, which means the ingredients sit on the surface of baby’s delicate skin to deflect the sun’s rays. The mineral sunscreen are best for all the family.
Which ingredients should be avoided in baby sunscreen?
You should make sure that your baby sunscreen doesn’t contain oxybenzone, an ingredient that might have hormonal effects,
You should read the ingredient list on baby sunscreens to see if it contains any fragrances, dyes or PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), all of which can irritate baby’s sensitive skin. Creams are better than sprays as babies may inhale the chemicals from aerosol sprays.
Any guidance on the best way to apply/ reapply sunscreen?
Apply sunscreen about 15 to 30 minutes before you and your toddler go outside, then reapply every two hours, and more often if your little one is sweating or playing in the water. To protect baby from the sun’s rays, start by minimizing the need for sunscreen by dressing baby in long-sleeved, sun-protective clothing and a sun hat. Next, apply a thin layer of baby sunscreen on any remaining exposed areas — make sure to use SPF 30 or higher and apply at least 15 to 30 minutes before you head outdoors. You will want to reapply baby’s sunblock every two hours that you’re outside and immediately after water-based activities.
If my baby or child has dark skin, is it still necessary to use sunscreen?
It is advised that everyone, regardless of skin colour, use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Although dark-skinned people won’t get sunburned as quickly, they will still burn and are still susceptible to sun-induced damage—such as sunspots and cancer.
• Any materials that are better/ worse for swimming costumes (UV resistance, for example)?
It is essential to keep your baby warm, and the best choice is neoprene which provides insulation to keep them warm, is naturally buoyant and offers UPF50+ UV protection.
How vital are sunglasses for babies and children? Why?
UV rays can damage the eyes of babies and children, so it is recommended that all children under the age of 10 should wear sunglasses in strong sunshine. But they should be right sunglasses.
Signs that baby or child is too hot? What to do if a child has a sunburn?
The easiest way to tell if your baby is too hot or too cold is by feeling the nape (back) of the neck to see if it is sweaty or cold to the touch. When babies are too warm, they may have flushed cheeks and look like they are sweating. An overheated baby may also breathe rapidly. When kids get sunburned, they usually have pain and a sensation of heat — symptoms that tend to get worse several hours after sun exposure. Some also get chills. Because the sun has dried their skin, it can become itchy and tight. Sunburned skin begins to peel about a week after the sunburn. Encourage your child not to scratch or peel off loose skin because skin underneath the sunburn is at risk for infection.
To treat a sunburn:
• Cool (not cold) bath, or gently apply cool, wet compresses to the skin to help ease pain and heat.
• Apply pure aloe vera gel to any sunburned areas.
• Nurofen or Paracetamol can be given to relieve the pain and itching. If itching is a problem antihistamine syrup can be used
• Apply unscented moisturizing cream to rehydrate the skin and treat the itching.
• If the sunburn is severe and blisters develop, call your doctor. Do not pop or squeeze the blisters because they can get infected and cause scarring.
• Keep your child out of the sun until the sunburn is healed. Any further sun exposure will only make the burn worse and increase pain.
Dr Fiona Rennie, Family Medicine Specialist