'Sunscreen is not a suit of armour': New sun safe guidelines for babies

"Sunscreen is not a suit of armour" experts are reminding us this summer.
"Sunscreen is not a suit of armour" experts are reminding us this summer. Photo: Shutterstock

"Sunscreen is not a suit of armour." That's the clear warning from the Australasian College of Dermatologists and Cancer Council who have updated their guidelines on sunscreen, and sun protection for babies. It comes after recent research found that 85 per cent of people don't apply sunscreen correctly, placing themselves and their loved ones at risk.

"There is a lack of understanding about the proper use of sunscreen and an over reliance on this as the principal form of sun protection," says Dr Andrew Miller, President of the ACD. And if you're thinking "Slip Slop Slap" will have you covered, well, you're missing two crucial steps.

"To be properly protected from UV, all five forms of sun protection should be used: slip on clothing, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on sunglasses," Dr Miller says.

It's a message echoed by Heather Walker, Chair of Cancer Council Australia's National Skin Cancer Committee. "It is important to never rely on just sunscreen to protect the skin," Walker says. "Cancer Council recommends using a water resistant, broad spectrum, SPF 30+ or higher sunscreen along with other forms of sun protection."

Using it properly is key and involves:

  • Applying at least 20 minutes before going outside
  • Using an adequate amount – at least one teaspoon for each arm and leg, front and back of torso and face (including neck and ears). This is a total of seven teaspoons (at least 35 ml of sunscreen) for an adult's full body application
  • Re-applying after swimming, sweating or towel drying, and/or every two hours regardless of what the label says.

If you've got a baby under 12 months old, you need to be paying attention to UV levels before heading outdoors. It's recommended that babies under one are kept away from direct sunlight when the UV hits three or above. (You can check the UV in your local area here at the Cancer Council or here at the Bureau of Meteorology.)

UV3 is the key

UV3 is the key Photo: my.uv.com.au

If the UV level is less than three, however, and you'll be outside for longer periods of time, your little one should be dressed in clothing that covers them as much as possible, should wear a hat (broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire style) and should be kept in the shade. Sunscreen is generally not recommended for bubs under six months.

"By using a combination of sun protection measures, Australians can take positive steps to reduce their risk of skin cancer and still enjoy our summer holiday period," says Dr Miller. "Being Sun Smart means being clever in planning for activities in the sun. Don't forget to look after yourself and your family by using all five sun protection methods."

Aussies should also be getting into the habit of doing regular skin checks. "You should understand your skin cancer risk by checking with your General Practitioner," Dr Miller adds. "You may need specialist attention from a dermatologist, and your GP will refer you to one if this is the case."