What you need to know

  • The sun is very strong in New Zealand, and we have one of the highest rates of melanoma (skin cancer) in the world.
  • It doesn’t have to be sunny and warm for skin to burn.
  • Gentle sunlight is good for tamariki in small doses because it provides vitamin D, which helps their body absorb calcium and promotes bone growth.
  • When first using a new sunscreen, try a small amount on a small area of skin to test it. 

About UV radiation

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a type of energy produced by the sun. UV radiation can cause sunburn, eye damage, and premature aging, and it’s the main cause of skin cancer. You can’t see or feel UV radiation.     

The Ultraviolet Index (UVl) is a measure of the intensity of UV radiation in our environment. The higher the index number, the greater the risk of sunburn or damage to the eyes.  

  • When the UVI is low (1 or 2), you don’t need sun protection.  
  • When the UVI is 3 or higher, it’s a good idea to protect your child’s skin and eyes from the sun.  

In the New Zealand summer, the UVI can reach levels as high as 15.  

UV radiation is strongest in the daylight saving months (between September and April), especially between 11am and 4pm. But it doesn’t have to be sunny and warm for skin to burn. 

You and your pēpi can get sunburned: 

  • on cloudy days 
  • when it’s cool 
  • when you’re in the shade – UV rays reflect off concrete, water, sand, and even from the inside of an umbrella. 

How much sun is safe?

Gentle sunlight is good for children in small doses because it provides vitamin D. Vitamin D is important because it helps their body absorb calcium, and promotes bone growth.

Just 10-15 minutes of sunlight a day on their face, arms and hands is enough for many tamariki. Children with darker skin who tan more easily and burn less may need more sun exposure (20 minutes per day, for example) to get the vitamin D their bodies need.  

Your children depend on you to protect them from the sun.  

Protecting your tamariki from the sun

It’s best if you can keep your child out of strong sunlight, but we know this isn’t always possible. Here’s how to help your child get the vitamin D they need and avoid them getting sunburned. 

In the daylight saving months (September to April):  

  • stay in the shade where possible, or drape a shade cloth over your child’s stroller or play area. You can get shade cloth from stroller companies or baby stores. 
    • It’s not a good idea to put a blanket or a plastic cover over a stroller for sun protection, because this stops air flow and can make the inside of the stroller too hot.   
    • Be aware that light coverings or light umbrellas might not be enough to protect your baby’s skin from the sun. 
  • slip, slop, slap, and wrap: 
    • Dress your child in clothing that will protect them from the sun, but keep them cool too. Clothing that offers the best protection from the sun is:  
      • made of a tightly-woven natural fabric 
      • a darker colour 
      • not too stretchy.  
    • Apply broad-spectrum water-resistant sunscreen to any exposed skin – thickly and evenly – before your child goes outside. It doesn’t need to be rubbed in. 
      • Check that any product meets the Australian and NZ Safety Standard AS/NZS 2604:2012. 
      • Use SPF50 sunscreen, and put it on at least 20 minutes before you go outside so it can be absorbed by the skin. 
      • Reapply every two hours, especially if they’ve been sweating or in the water.  
      • A zinc stick is good to use on a child’s nose, cheeks and lips. 
    • Make sure they’re wearing a wide-brim hat or a cap with flaps that shade the ears and neck. 
    • It might not be easy to get your child to wear sunglasses and keep them on, but it’s worth getting them into the habit of protecting their eyes from the sun. Close-fitting, wrap-around sunglasses are the best – and check they provide protection against UV radiation. This is usually shown by a sticker on the lens. 

Between May and August, you don’t usually need sun protection for your skin unless you’re in the mountains or in the water. But you still need vitamin D, so spending some time outside in the middle of the day is a good idea. 

Learn how to be sun smart

SunSmart

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Sunsmart provides information about protecting your skin and eyes from damaging UV radiation

Sunscreen quick tips

  • Young babies under six months have very sensitive skin, and it may react to sunscreen.  
  • Unscented sunscreens, and those made for sensitive skin, often cause less reaction. Sunscreens with the chemicals phenoxyethanol and octocrylene often lead to reactions, and the chemical octinoxate (octyl methoxycinnamate) has been linked to coral bleaching and negative effects on marine life and other animals. 
  • When first using a new sunscreen, try a small amount (the size of a pea) on a small area of skin (inside their upper arm, for example) to test it.  
  • Store sunscreen in a cool, dry place, and check the expiry date before you use it – generally sunscreen only lasts for three years.  
  • Sunscreen can’t completely protect your child’s skin, even if you reapply it regularly. It’s best to try to stay out of the midday sun, and to make sure your child wears clothing and a hat that will help protect exposed skin. 

What to do if your child gets sunburned

  • A luke-warm bath may help to soothe their skin. 
  • Paracetamol might provide some pain relief for severe cases. Make sure to give correct dose of paracetamol for your child’s age. 
  • Sunburn can cause dehydration, so give your child water to replace body fluids. 
  • If your baby is less than one year old, take them to the doctor to be checked out. 
  • If your pēpi is older than one, call your doctor if they’re in severe pain, blistering, feverish, or are lethargic. 
  • Keep them out of the sun entirely until the sunburn heals. 

If your child is in the sun for too long, they might feel sick and have a headache, fever, chills, and nausea. These effects are normally seen between six and 12 hours after they’ve had too much sun.

Need free support or advice?

Call PlunketLine 24/7 on 0800 933 922