Protecting children with sunscreens

09 January 2017

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The Australian Self Medication Industry (ASMI) has stated its continued support for the use of sunscreens, especially children's sunscreen products on the Australian market following recent reports of complaints against the Cancer Council's Peppa Pig Kids Sunscreen.

All primary sunscreens in the Australian market are closely regulated by the Australian Government's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to help ensure they meet the highest standards of quality, safety and effectiveness. Primary sunscreens are those with a rated sun protection factor (SPF) of 4 or more. 

Sunscreen use remains an important form of sun protection, along with protective clothing, hats, and sunglasses and, whenever possible, avoiding the sun during peak UV periods. A study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health1 estimated that, in 2010, average sunscreen use over previous decades in Australia had prevented 1,730 cases of melanoma and 14,190 squamous cell carcinomas.

Sunscreens, like any other topical product, have the potential to cause skin irritation or other adverse reactions in an extremely low proportion of the population. The skin of babies and infants is less mature and therefore more sensitive compared to that of older children and adults. Infants also have a higher surface-area to body-weight ratio compared to older children and adults, which means their exposure to the ingredients in sunscreens via skin absorption may be much greater, increasing the risk of side effects from the sunscreen. Consequently, carers of babies and infants are encouraged to heed the warnings that come with sunscreen products for children:

  • sunscreen use should be avoided wherever possible for babies under six months of age.
  • always test the product on a small patch of skin (e.g. inside of forearm) before liberally applying to other areas of the body
  • follow the directions for use on the label, including the advised rate of re-application

The Australasian College of Dermatologists recommends keeping babies under 12 months out of direct sun and avoiding exposure to the peak UV period of 10am-3pm, in addition to using other forms of sun protection, such as hats, clothing, and sunglasses to minimise the potential of sunburn from reflected sunlight.  Sunscreen products should be used only when the conditions above cannot be avoided. Liberal amounts of sunscreen should be applied for babies of six months or older before they are allowed out in the sun for short periods of time. Infants under six months of age should be kept out of the sun.

Given the lifesaving benefits of sunscreen, ASMI continues to encourage the use of TGA regulated sunscreens. Consumers with any concerns or adverse reactions with a suspected association with sunscreen use are advised to consult a healthcare professional. 

 

References

  1. Olsen C, Wilson F, Green A et al. Cancers in Australia attributable to exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation and prevented by regular sunscreen use, ANZ Journal of Public Health, Oct 2015.