A four-month-old NZ baby suffered ‘horrific’ blister burns after an SPF 50 Cancer Society sunscreen failed to protect him.

The Cancer Society has confirmed an investigation into the sunscreen is under way following five “serious” complaints over this summer season, the New Zealand Herald reports.

The organisation has about 60 complaints each season. This season 30 people have complained so far which was on par with previous years, said chief executive Mike Kernaghan.

Consumer New Zealand chief executive Sue Chetwin told the Herald that under its testing, Cancer Society, among other sunscreen brands, had not always met SPF claims, and it was a concern that needed addressing with more frequent testing by the manufacturers.

Mother-of-two Lyndall Watson, from Reefton on New Zealand’s South Island, spoke to the Herald about her son’s “heartbreaking” experience.

Baby Noah’s face and hands were covered in the SPF 50 Cancer Society sunscreen 30 minutes before getting to the beach, as they were the only areas exposed, Ms Watson said.

She said Noah was kept in the shade with a hat on and she reapplied more of the sunscreen within an hour, as it looked like he was already getting burnt.

“I trusted Cancer Society to protect my children. You assume they are a safe option as they are the experts, so the last thing I expected was this,” she said.

The family left the beach about 4pm, when the mum noticed a red spot on her son’s nose.

“At first I thought it was a mosquito bite but then it started spreading to his eyes and blistering. Seeing this happening to your baby is heartbreaking,” she said.

Her oldest son, who is 3, was also burnt on his back but not as bad.

“He was in the water so it’s surprising he didn’t get as burnt as Noah but then I guess his skin isn’t as sensitive as a baby.”

Baby Noah was prescribed creams from his doctor and a claim with New Zealand’s Accident Compensation Corporation had been made “in case there are any issues down the line”, Ms Watson said.

“The doctor said we would need to keep Noah out of the sun for the rest of the summer and take extra precaution,” she said.

The mum wanted to share her story to help warn others about the potential dangers.

How to apply sunscreen and be sunsmart

Did you know Sunscreen should really be the last line of defence after clothing, a hat, shade and sunglasses?

During sun protection times, apply SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen to any skin not covered by clothing.

Use a generous amount of sunscreen. The average-sized adult needs a teaspoon of sunscreen for their head and neck, each limb and for the front and the back of the body. That is about 35ml of sunscreen for one full body application.

Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside and re-apply again every two hours (whether or not the label tells you to do this).

Remember to reapply after swimming or excessive sweating.

If you have an allergic reaction to a sunscreen, try another brand or look for a fragrance-free product such as a toddler or sensitive sunscreen.

A doctor or chemist could also offer advice about choosing another product.

The Australasian College of Dermatologists does not recommend widespread regular use of chemical sunscreens on babies under 6 months.

Shade tips via Sunsmart
The shade moves with the sun, so be prepared to move around a bit and follow the shade.

Trees with dense foilage with a dark, even shade patch are the best types of natural shade.
Take portable shade with you to make sure you will not be caught out. Consider a beach or market umbrella or shade tent.

Use a shade visor or hang a blanket over the side windows in the car. Side and back windows don’t offer as much protection as the front windscreen.

When buying a pram, check that the hood can be adjusted, so that it can be moved to block out the direct sun. For the best protection, pram shade covers should completely cover the pram and be made of densely woven fabric that combines a mesh section – so the baby can see and air can circulate – and a shade fabric section. The fabric section should block close to 100% of UV radiation (UPF50+) and the mesh section should block at least 70% of UV radiation (UPF3.3).

Have you had any similar experiences?

Read more – Parents share warning over popular sunscreen following severe reactions

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  • Oh my goodness, poor baby and poor mother too. How shocking that you are trying to protect your baby and it gets a horrid burn instead. Hope this is investigated.


  • Oh my goodness this is just absolutely shocking. Very disappointing against the company.


  • Wow, this poor Mum did all of the right things to protect her child and still it was not enough. This is concerning.


  • poor baby it looks so painful


  • I had this happen to my youngest when we first put sunscreen on him. Learnt he has very sensitive skin and if applied too often the build-up of sunscreen would actually burn him. Hope Noah makes a full recovery with no scars. As Mums we just want to do what’s best for our family.

    • Yes, I’ve experienced too that a build up of sunscreen can actually burn the skin. One would wonder if applying sunscreen is uberhaupt a good thing to do.


  • I think the baby was too young to have sunscreen applied. According to inquiries I have made at more than one pharmacy (some have their “pet” brand they promote), the main difference between sunscreens made for toddlers vs adults is adults have fragrance in them and have to have a chemical added to hold in the fragrance in. Acccording to some research there isn’t much benefit between SPF30+ and SPF50+. There is one other well known brand that a lot have had allergic reactions to even when plans were changed the a child didn’t go out at all. It was a kids SPF 30+. Her skin went as red as traffic lights


  • What does the cancer council have to say about this? I thought we could trust them – I am bitterly grieved.


  • And to think I was just about to buy Cancer council products. Glad I read this.


  • This is disgusting! How does a product like this get through testing? Especially by such a trusted brand.


  • This is a shocking story. I too would have trusted the Cancer Society products to do what they are supposed to do. Even though she did everything that she could, this Mum probably would still feel so much guilt. I hope there are no long term effects too.


  • Poor little mite – I wonder if he is allergic to the sunscreen lotion? Or if it is the lotion at fault?
    I have tried many lotions and am unable to use any of them – thanks heavens for big floppy hats and long sleeved cotton tops.


  • Poor Bub and poor mum

    Thinking possibly toxic chemical burn. I remember there was an issue with a kids sun screen batch in Queensland 2 summers ago…. was giving kids a similar burn issue


  • Poor buns the pin would be so bad we have had a really hot summer even me applying sunscreen to miss 8 and 5 month old with hats rashes although buns was in shade and didn’t go swimming only 2 days she went swimming rashes and hats I make my kids wear


  • Horrible thing to happen. I was burnt once when I had sunscreen applied. Found out later that the sunscreen was out of date so did not work.


  • Poor bubba,


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