Hot weather and sun safety for kids

Playing outdoors is a part of life in Australia.

When kids are outdoors it is important to protect their young skin from the harmful effects of consistent UV rays and be aware of the risks of heat-related illnesses.

Sun safety

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with two in three Australians developing some form of skin cancer before the age of 70.

UV radiation exposure during the first 15 years of life greatly increases the risk of developing skin cancer later in life.  

Protect your child's skin in five ways:

  1. Slip on clothing that covers as much skin as possible
  2. Slop on SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen
  3. Slap on a broad-brimmed hat that covers the face, back of the neck and ears
  4. Seek out shade
  5. Slide on sunglasses that meet the Australian standard for UV protection.

Slip on protective clothing

Slip on clothing that covers as much skin as possible, for example, a long-sleeved shirt with a collar is ideal. Try to find a long-sleeved rash vest for children in and around water. 

Slop on sunscreen

Sunscreens work to either absorb or reflect UV rays to prevent damage to skin cells.

Choosing a sunscreen

Children six months and over:

For children six months and over, it is recommended to use a sunscreen, which is:

  • SPF30 or above
  • broad spectrum
  • water resistant.

For the best protection, choose a sunscreen that meets the above criteria and that your child is more likely to wear and reapply.

Therapeutic sunscreens in Australia are regulated to ensure they are safe and effective to use. If your child reacts to specific ingredients in a product, talk to your doctor to find a safer option to protect your child from the sun.

Babies under six months: 

It is not recommended to use sunscreen for babies under six months of age. If your baby is under six months of age, use other sun protection methods when outdoors, such as protective clothing, hats, sunglasses and shade. 

Applying sunscreen

Long-term sunscreen use is estimated to prevent more than 1,700 melanoma cases and 14,190 squamous cell carcinomas, a common form of skin cancer, each year. Things to remember when applying sunscreen:

  • apply sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure
  • cover all exposed skin areas (using at least a teaspoon of sunscreen per limb, on the body, on the face, back of the neck, ears and hands)
  • apply sunscreen on your child's skin when the UV index is three or above, not just in summer - you can check UV levels daily using the free SunSmart Global UV app
  • reapply sunscreen every two hours or sooner if your child has been:
    • swimming
    • drying off with a towel
    • sweating
  • use other sun safety measures in combination with sunscreen.

Slap on a hat

Slap on a hat. It is recommended to choose a hat that:

  • shades the whole face, ears and back of the neck
    • broad-brimmed hat - brims should be at least 6cm for children
    • bucket hats - brims should be at least 5cm for children
    • legionnaire hats - back flap should cover the neck and meet the front brim to cover the side of the face
  • has a darker lining to reduce UV being reflected back onto your child's face
  • fits your child correctly 
  • doesn't block their vision
  • isn't a baseball cap.

Seek out shade

Seek out shade so you can spend longer enjoying the outdoors under a tree, umbrella or roof. Things to consider with shade:

  • as the sun moves throughout the day, the shaded area will move - regularly check your area and move or relocate if needed
  • try to plan activities on either side of the hottest part of the day (10am to 2pm)
  • regularly check that strollers and prams are shaded to ensure children are not directly in the sun for extended periods of time. 

Slide on sunglasses

Slide on some eye protection such as sunglasses. Too much UV radiation to the eyes can cause short and long terms problems such as irritation, inflammation, cataracts or skin cancer around the eyes or eyelids.

When your child is old enough to handle wearing sunglasses you should encourage them to wear them when exposed to sunlight.  

Choosing sunglasses:

To help protect your child from UV radiation, make sure sunglasses:

  • are advertised as meeting or complying with the Australian standard (AS 1067) as this will help absorb more than 95% of UV
  • have an eye protection factor (EPF) of 9 or above.
  • are closely fitted to your childs head
  • cover as much of their eyes as possible
  • are not advertised as toys or fashion spectacles as these don't offer protection from UV.

The colour, tint or darknesses of the sunglasses does not determine the level of UV protection so shouldn't be used when assessing or choosing sunglasses.

Tip: If your child helps choose their own sunglasses, they are more likely to want to wear them. It also helps create some responsibility around their own sun protection when outdoors. 

Sun protection at the snow

Did you know that UV radiation is greater at higher altitudes than it is at sea level? When you’re higher up, the air is cleaner and thinner meaning less UV is absorbed by the atmosphere.  Snow is also extremely reflective which can increase children’s UV exposure on a sunny day.

If you're going to the snow, your risk of sunburn may be greater than you think. Protect your child’s skin at the snow:

  • always check the UV radiation in your area – use sun protection measures when the UV is 3 or higher
  • wear sunglasses or goggles that meet Australian Standards for UV protection
  • don’t forget areas such as your lips, neck, hands and ears – these are often exposed
  • take indoor breaks when UV is at its highest.

Managing sunburn

Did you know?

If a person has had five or more sunburns or one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence, their risk of developing melanoma doubles.

Try to prevent sunburn by following the slip, slop, sap, seek and slide messaging. However, when a child spends too long out in the sun without sun protection, they are likely to get sunburnt.

Managing mild sunburn

If a child has a mild sunburn, it can often be managed at home through the following steps: 

  • prevent any further damage by eliminating sun exposure by moving them inside or into the shade
  • drink plenty of water so your child doesn’t become dehydrated as well as sunburnt 
  • apply a cold compress or place the affected area in cool water 
  • use pain relief medication if necessary by following the instructions on the label
  • do not pop blisters
  • speak with a pharmacist about appropriate moisturisers such as spray-on solutions.

If the skin starts peeling, remind your child to avoid picking at it. Allow the skin to shed naturally as it is a part of the body's healing process.

Managing severe sunburn

Signs and symptoms of severe sunburn can include:

  • blistering of the skin 
  • severe pain 
  • a fever  
  • cramping
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • headaches. 

If a child has severe sunburn that is causing them pain or to become unwell, you should call Triple Zero (000) or visit your local emergency department for further advice.

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke

When children are out in hot, humid conditions for extended periods of time, they are at risk of heat-related illnesses, including heat exhaustion and heatstroke (also known as sunstroke).

A child's ability to regulate heat is not as efficient as adults, as the body does not cool itself as well through sweat. When kids are having fun out in the sun, they often don’t want to miss out on activities, so they are unlikely to take a break for water or shade.

It is important for parents and carers to understand the conditions and recommend regular breaks. 

Symptoms of exhaustion in children

Heat exhaustion is the body’s response when a child has lost excessive water and salt through the skin in the form of sweat.

Symptoms include: 

  • heavy sweating (cool and moist skin) 
  • pale skin 
  • fast and weak pulse rate 
  • breathing fast and shallow 
  • muscle weakness or cramps 
  • tiredness 
  • dizziness 
  • headache 
  • nausea or vomiting 
  • fainting.

Responding to heat exhaustion in children 

If you suspect a child is experiencing heat exhaustion, you should:

  • limit exposure to the elements by resting the child in a cool place indoors or under shade 
  • cool the child down by removing excess clothing, running a cool bath or shower or placing cool packs under the armpits, groin or neck 
  • provide the child with cool water or an oral rehydration drink (electrolyte drink).

If a child experiencing heat exhaustion is not treated promptly, it may progress to heat stroke. Action should be taken to minimise the risk of heat stroke.

Symptoms of heatstroke in children

Heat stroke occurs when a child’s temperature is above 40.5°C. Symptoms include: 

  • a sudden rise in body temperature 
  • red, hot and dry skin (sweating has stopped) 
  • dry swollen tongue 
  • rapid pulse 
  • rapid shallow breathing 
  • intense thirst 
  • headache 
  • nausea or vomiting 
  • dizziness 
  • confusion, poor coordination or slurred speech 
  • aggressive or bizarre behaviour 
  • loss of consciousness 
  • seizures or coma.

It is important to provide immediate first aid to lower the child’s body temperature as soon as possible, as it can be life-threatening if neglected. 

Responding to heatstroke in children 

If you suspect a child is experiencing heatstroke you should:

  • call Triple Zero (000) and ask for an ambulance
  • do not give a child with heat stroke aspirin or paracetamol as this could be more harmful.

If the child is unconscious:

  • lay them on their side in the recovery position and check they can breathe properly
  • perform CPR if needed.

If the child is conscious: 

  • move them to a cool area indoors or under shade and keep them still 
  • give them small sips of fluid 
  • bring their temperature down using any method available such as:
    • sponge with cool water
    • a cool shower
    • spray with cool water from a garden hose
    • soak clothes with cool water
    • place cool packs under the armpits, groin or neck.
Last updated Monday 6th May 2024