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Sun protection

sun; hat; skin; sunscreen; screen; shade; eye; sunglasses; SPF; UPF; UVA; UBV; clothes; fake; tan; solariums; pregnancy; vitamin; D; rickets; sunburn; burn ;

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is part of sunlight. It can cause sunburn, skin damage and skin cancer. There are 3 types of  UV rays, called UVA, UVB and UVC.

It is important to understand what you can do to protect your children from skin damage due to the sun.


Too much sun has been shown to cause skin damage and skin cancers. Yet many people, young people especially, still spend a lot of time in the sun. It is important to understand what you can do to protect your children from skin damage due to the sun.

sun safe


The Cancer Council Australia recommends:

  • Slip on protective clothing
  • Slop on SPF 30+ sunscreen
  • Slap on a hat
  • Seek shade
  • Slide on some sunglasses

Remember to take extra care between 10am and 3pm when UV radiation is most intense. Reschedule outdoor events to avoid peak UV times. (Move outdoor events to earlier in the morning or late afternoon or evening.)

Cancer Council Australia 'Be SunSmart'

What causes sun damage?

  • Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is part of sunlight. It can cause sunburn, skin damage and skin cancer.
  • UV radiation can also damage eyes.
  • There are 3 types of UV rays, called UVA, UVB and UVC.
  • UVC rays from the sun do not reach the earth's surface, but can come from arc welders and sterilising lamps.
  • About 90% of UVB rays are absorbed by ozone, water vapour and carbon dioxide before they can get to the Earth’s surface. Even so, UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn, suntan, and skin damage, including skin cancer. Even on a cloudy day, UVB rays can cause skin damage.
  • Most of the UV light that gets to the Earth’s surface is UVA. UVA can also cause skin damage, but not as much as UVB.


Shading the skin by staying in shaded places (eg under a tree) or by using personal shading (eg hat, clothing) is an important part of avoiding or reducing sun damage.

  • Even in a shaded place, there will be sun exposure from scattered and reflected light (eg from clouds and surfaces such as sand or concrete). It is still important to protect the skin with clothing and sunscreens while in the shade.
  • Staying in shady places (eg inside) is recommended for the highest-risk times, such as between 11am and 3pm during daylight-saving time.
  • Sunny but cool days can be high risk days. If people don't feel hot, they often choose to be in a sunny place.

Note: Children's feet can become burned from walking on very hot sand, roads or paving.

Sun protection from clothing

  • To protect from the sun, clothing should cover as much of the skin as possible (ie long sleeves, high collars, long trousers or skirts).
  • The tightness of the weave is the factor which most affects how much sun can get through the cloth. If you can see through the cloth the sun can get through.
  • For swimming use clothing made from lycra which stays protective when wet.
  • Colour is less important. Dark colours give more protection from UVB, but they may make you feel hotter.
  • Some clothing has information to show how much sun can get through the cloth. For example, UPF-40 or above gives very high protection, and UPF-15 and above gives good protection. (UPF means ultraviolet protection factor.)
  • Some clothing does not have a UPF label. This is because it has not been tested. It does not mean that it won't protect you.


Common sites for skin damage and skin cancer are the neck, ears, temples, lips, nose and face, so these body parts need extra protection.

  • Hats with broad brims (8-10 cm) or with a flap at the back as well as the front ("legionnaire style"), or bucket hats give the best shade for face, back of the neck and ears. They should be made of close-weave material.
  • These hats can lower the amount of UVB reaching the face and eyes by 50%.
  • Baseball caps are not as good because they do not protect the back of the neck and ears (or the face, when worn back to front!) Sun visors give even less protection.


  • Long term exposure to UVA and UVB rays can cause eye problems. including growths on the surface of the eye and cataracts.
  • Wearing good quality sunglasses can protect the eyes.
  • Sunglass lenses should absorb all UVB and UVA.
  • EPF-10 (Eye Protection Factor) (100% absorption) is needed to meet Australian Standards for sunglasses.
  • The colour or darkness of the lenses does not show how well they protect your eyes from the sun, but can make a difference to how well you can see with glasses on.
  • The shape is important, so the sunlight does not come in around the edges of the glasses. "Wrap-around" style and close fitting is best.
  • Clip-on sunglasses provide UV protection, but they are not as good as wrap-around style for protection.
  • The eyes of infants and toddlers should be protected by keeping them out of the sun and by using hats and shade.
  • Older children should wear hats and sunglasses when outside for long amounts of time, especially during the middle hours of the day.
  • The Cancer Council South Australia recommends sunglasses as a way of protecting the eyes of children from the sun.

Sunglasses and babies

Sunglasses (which meet the Australian Standards for sunglasses) will not affect eye development if they are only worn some of the time (when the child is out in the sunshine). Be aware that babies may pull sunglasses off and stick the ear piece in their eyes. For babies, the best protection is making sure the baby is in the shade, and that the baby's eyes do not get exposed to bright light for long periods.


Sunscreens contain chemicals which either absorb or reflect the UV rays of the sun. SPF 30+ sunscreens screen out about 97% of UV rays.

Research shows that sunscreens are helpful in protecting skin from sunburn and skin damage. Read the instructions about 'when and how often' you should apply.

Sunscreens and babies

  • Keep babies indoors as much as possible during high risk times such as the middle of the day.
  • Sunscreens appear to be safe for babies and should be used rather than risking sunburn.
  • Use sunscreens only on the small areas of the skin which cannot be protected by shade and clothing, such as the baby's face and hands. Remember that sunscreen rubbed into the eyes can make them very sore.
  • Zinc cream can be a good sunscreen for babies.

More information

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is an essential vitamin needed for healthy muscles and bones. It is made in the skin by the action of UVB rays on chemicals in skin. Research has shown that exposure to very small amounts of sunshine is enough to make sufficient vitamin D. The Cancer Council of Australia has stated that:

'Australia's high ultraviolet radiation levels means that even when babies are outdoors for very short periods before 10 am and after 4 pm with small amounts of skin exposed, they are likely to receive enough ultraviolet radiation exposure to maintain healthy vitamin D levels even with the use of sun protection.'

There is increasing evidence that some breastfed babies in Australia are at risk of having not enough vitamin D and developing a disease called Rickets.

  • If their mothers have low levels of vitamin D during pregnancy - because they are dark skinned and/or have their body mostly covered (eg veiled) - these babies will not get enough vitamin D before birth. There is little vitamin D in breastmilk. (There is vitamin D in infant formula.)
  • In Australia it may be appropriate for babies of dark skinned mothers or mothers who are veiled to have extra vitamin D (in multivitamin drops).
  • In some countries it is recommended that all breastfed babies be given extra vitamin D. This is not recommended in Australia since babies who are outside even for short periods of time are likely to get enough sun exposure to form enough vitamin D.

Treating sunburn

  • Sun burn needs to be treated like any other burn of the skin. Use water to cool the burnt area (at least 20 minutes under cold running tap water is best).
  • It is important to prevent infection (germs getting in). Blisters should not be pricked because they can become infected.
  • Bad burns or burns that cover a lot of the body should be seen by a doctor.
  • Antiseptic creams should only be used on the advice of a doctor. They are rarely needed unless there are very large areas of bad burn with blistering and loss of skin.
  • Anaesthetic creams (for pain relief) on the skin may help a bit, but they can sting when you put them on, and also can irritate the skin.
  • Cool water seems to soothe, and the use of pain relief (eg paracetamol) can help.
  • Anti-inflammatory creams such as those used for eczema may be helpful - talk to your doctor or pharmacist (chemist).
  • A weeping area may be more comfortable if covered by a burn dressing (see your pharmacist)

Note: Many older children are very worried by even mild sunburn as they have been given so many messages about the dangers of sunburn, and they may be very afraid that they will now get skin cancer. They may need to be reassured that one or a few times of being sunburnt are not likely to cause skin cancer, and certainly not straight away, but that they need to learn about how to be better at protecting their skin.

Fake tanners

There are two types of fake tanners:

  • skin dyes that are painted, rubbed or sprayed on to the skin
  • chemicals that can be taken to make the skin more sensitive to sun light. These are used to treat some health problems such as psoriasis, and should not be used to speed up tanning.

Skin dyes

  • These may have some sunscreen in them, but this lasts only a few hours, while the fake tan may last for several days.
  • Apart from this early sunscreen effect, fake tanners do not protect the skin from UV damage. Sunscreens must still be used.
  • These dyes are probably safe to use during pregnancy, but they have not been fully proven to be safe. It is probably best not to use them.
  • For more information have a look at the Cancer Council Australia Position Statement 'Fake tans and UV radiation'.

Tanning salons (solariums)

  • A solarium is an artificial tanning machine that uses high levels of UV radiation to induce a tan.
  • Any radiation which causes tanning, including 'sun beds', tanning beds or solariums, will cause damage to the skin.
  • The use of solariums has been clearly related to the development of skin cancer - in particular melanoma.

More information

For more information about the regulations and the Standard have a look at information on the Cancer Council SA website: http://www.cancersa.org.au/aspx/Solariums.aspx


UVB Rays and the seasons

  • The amount of UVB rays reaching the earth depends on the time of year. The rays come more vertically during summer, so the amount of the atmosphere that they have to pass through is less, and the amount reaching the earth's surface is higher. It also depends on the time of the day (greatest amount at solar noon - 1pm daylight-saving time, and for 2 hours either side of that time)
  • About 50% of UVB is received directly, while the other 50% is scattered in the sky and reaches a person indirectly, including when under shade. UVB will also be reflected by some surfaces (eg water, sand and snow) increasing the exposure.
  • Thin cloud scatters but does not block UVB, so high levels can still occur.
  • Thick cloud will decrease the amount of UVB.
  • The temperature does not affect the amount of UVB. A cool change without thick clouds does not drop the UVB. Even though November can be cooler than March (in Australia), UVB levels can be just as high.


The Cancer Council South Australia  

Cancer Council Australia Position Statement 'Fake tans and UV radiation' 2007

Position Statement 'Sun protection and infants (0 to 12 months)' Approved by the Cancer Council of Australia and the Australasian College of Dermatologists May 2005 Click here 

Position statement 'Risks and benefits of sun exposure' Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Osteoporosis Australia, Australasian College of Dermatologists and the Cancer Council of Australia. March 2005

Position Statement 'Vitamin D and adult bone health in Australia and New Zealand' Working Group of the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, Endocrine Society of Australia and Osteoporosis Australia, Medical Journal of Australia 2005; 182(6):281-285

Gartner LM, Greer FR 'Prevention of rickets and vitamin D deficiency: new guidelines for vitamin D intake' Pediatrics Vol 111, no 4 April 2003, p908-910

Janda M, Kimlin MG et al ‘Sun protection messages, vitamin D and skin cancer: out of the frying pan and into the fire?’ Medical Journal of Australia 2007; 186 (2): 52-53 http://www.mja.com.au/public/issues/186_02_150107/jan10896_fm.html

Nowson CA, Diamond TH et al 'Vitamin D in Australia: issues and recommendations' Australian Family Physician Vol 33, No 3, March 2004 p133-138

World Health Organisation INTERSUN Global Ultraviolet Radiation Project

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

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