All about sunscreen and children

Applying sunscreen to squirmy, active little kids is an essential part of daily life for many parents in New Zealand.

These days, kids grow up knowing that sun protection is vital if they’re going to spend any time outdoors while the sun’s out – and the most important part of being sun safe is to make sure they’re wearing some sunscreen. Coupled with that, there’s a growing body of scientific evidence which has linked substantial sun exposure and sunburn during childhood with increased risk of developing skin cancers, such as melanoma, as an adult.

But what does sunscreen actually do? How can mums and dads find out which ones are best for kids?

Choosing the best sunscreen

The range of sunscreens available for use on kids is vast and in New Zealand most sunscreens are good quality .

Professionals advise parents to buy sunscreens that are:

  • Broad spectrum: that is, protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • SPF 50+: the highest ‘sun protection factor’ approved for sale in New Zealand
  • Water resistant: that is, they provide SPF for a certain amount of time which must be included on the packaging.

Any product which includes AS/NZS 2604:1998 on the label means it meets Australian and New Zealand sunscreen standards. There is no direct correlation between price and effectiveness.

Some parents also prefer to choose sunscreens that are aimed at kids or people with sensitive skin because these lotions are less harsh on young skin.

Can sunscreens be used on babies?

There is no evidence that using sunscreen on babies is harmful, although some babies can develop a minor skin irritation. Try sunscreen milks or creams for sensitive skin, which are less likely to irritate the skin. As with all products, use of any sunscreen should stop if any unusual reaction occurs.

It is recommended that babies be kept out of the sun as much as possible for the first 12 months. “Evidence suggests that childhood sun exposure contributes significantly to (the) lifetime risk of skin cancer.”

8 sunscreen facts you need to know

  • Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours – even if it claims to be water resistant up to four hours. It is important to keep applying it as it can get washed off, towelled off or rubbed off.
  • Apply 20 minutes before sun exposure – all sunscreens need time to bond with skin.
  • Apply liberally – this means at least one teaspoon per limb.
  • Watch the use-by dates – over time, the chemicals contained in sunscreens break down or separate so it cannot provide the amount of protection indicated.
  • Don’t leave sunscreens in the car. Ideally, to prolong their life and effectiveness, they should be stored in cool places below 30°C.
  • No sunscreen provides 100 percent protection – sunscreen reduces but cannot block all UV radiation. That’s why it’s advised to always use sunscreen with other forms of sun protection like hats, shade, clothing and sunglasses.
  • Water is not a good sunscreen – UV rays can penetrate to the depth of one metre.
  • Sunscreen should be worn if the UV Index is 3 or over – you can download a UV mobile phone app to check real-time measures

*Source: Euromonitor International Limited; NIVEA in the category Sun Care,incl. Sun Protection, Aftersun & Self Tanning; in retail value terms, 2017. Always read the label. Use only as directed.


  1. SarahBlair 31/12/2017 at 7:49 pm

    Wow! There are so many things that I didn’t know! Slap sunscreen on and they are good to go, right? Looks like I will be re-thinking my sunscreen procedures….

  2. felicity beets 30/12/2017 at 6:47 pm

    some good tips here, especially applying sunscreen 20 minutes before exposure. Also had not heard of the UV app – a great idea as sometimes you don’t think it is that strong but you can still get burnt.

  3. Angelgirl081 30/12/2017 at 10:04 am

    Some important tips to remember. I turn as red as a lobster if I’m in the sun for too long and then peel and blister, and I can already tell miss 10 months is going to be the same (luckily for miss 4, she has darker skin like her dad, so if she accidentally gets some sun, she just goes brown.)
    I’m pretty vigilant with the application but didn’t know those other things like not storing it in the car.

  4. kymmage 22/12/2017 at 5:46 pm

    I need to get a UV app. The school uses one and they basically don’t go outside if it’s going to be crazy hot. We went to the beach recently and even though I was re-applying regularly, we still ended up slightly pink. We ended up taking to our cabin mid day because the sun was just too much!

  5. Mands1980 20/12/2017 at 9:43 pm

    I must remember to apply every 2 hours as it easy to forget as well as putting on 20 mins before going out in the sun. We try put up a gazebo to keep out of the sun when we can. I just went though my sunscreens and checked the dates throwing out 2 lots and bought new sunscreen for the summer.

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