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Best Practices for Children's Sunscreen

Posted by Elizabeth Remus Bigelow, M.D. on Jul 12, 2017

School’s out for the summer, and that means spending more time outside with kids. Keep your kids safe from the sun this summer with these children’s sunscreen guidelines:

How to Choose Sunscreen for Babies and Kids

Go into any drugstore and you’re sure to be overwhelmed by the sunscreen selection. Make sure to choose the right sunscreen for children by looking for these criteria:

      • SPF (Sun Protection Factor): Always make sure sunscreen has an SPF of 30 or higher. Up to SPF 50 is reasonable for children, but anything higher may not provide any additional benefits. Reapply sunscreen often, as the SPF wears off over time. For example, it is better to reapply SPF 30 sunscreen 2 - 3 times, rather than apply SPF 50 sunscreen once.

      • UVA/UVB Protection: Look for the keywords “broad spectrum” on the sunscreen packaging. This means the sunscreen protects against both harmful UVA/UVB rays, preventing aging and skin cancer risks.

      • Ingredients: Physical sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are two safe options for kids, as opposed to chemical sunscreens. These sunscreens aren’t as easily absorbed into the skin, which is ideal for a child’s delicate skin. Other sunscreens may irritate a child’s skin, especially on their face.

      • Expiration Date: Like many products, sunscreen has a shelf life, and after that time period, the ingredients may break down and be ineffective. Sunscreens should remain at original strength for up to 3 years. If you are purchasing new sunscreen, ensure the expiration date is far enough in the future. Any expired sunscreens should be tossed out.

Need help choosing the best sunscreen for your adult skin? Check out our article on choosing sunscreen for healthy skin.

Tips for Applying Sunscreen on Kids

Apply sunscreen at least a half hour before any time outdoors. Try to make sunscreen a part of your routine, so you don’t forget to apply it on short trips or overcast days, when harmful rays can still affect your child’s skin.

 

Sunscreen should not be applied to children under six months of age. Babies under six months should be kept out of the sun as much as possible.

If kids are swimming or getting sweaty at the playground, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, or after they get out of the water. Even if a sunscreen bottle says it is waterproof on the label, it just means it’s more water resistant -  your safest option is to always reapply sunscreen after being in the water.

Even if your child is wearing a swim shirt, make sure to apply sunscreen all over their arms, legs and torso. It’s especially important to get the tops of their ears, feet, nose and hair part. For the face, an SPF stick can be the easiest way to apply sunscreen. Don’t forget to give their lips a coat of SPF-infused lip balm often.

Adults should use at least an ounce and a half of sunscreen lotion, but children often require about an ounce to completely cover the body. Think of the pour of a shot glass as a close approximation for adults, and a slightly smaller amount for kids. Sunscreen in lotion form is often better to apply on kids, because it’s thicker and easier to see missed spots. However, if you have a squirmy or sandy kid you can also use a sunscreen spray.

More Tips on Sun Protection for Kids

While routine sunscreen application is the best way to prevent sun damage to a child’s sensitive skin, there are other steps you can take for avoiding the sun's damaging rays:

      • Be sure to keep your sunscreen in the shade or even in a cooler if you’re in direct sunlight. The active ingredients can break down in high heat, just like other medications.

      • Always make sure your child has a hat on outdoors. If you start using hats in infancy, they won’t resist them as they age.

      • Just like hats, make sure your child always has a pair of sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection. Tiny glasses can be hard to keep on a kid’s face, but several kinds are made that wrap around the whole head, ensuring they stay put.

      • SPF clothing, like rash guards and other swim clothes, can provide additional sun protection. Before purchasing, look for an SPF tag on the clothing. SPF clothing can add up to 50 SPF protection.

      • Avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, especially from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., when UV rays are at their peak. If you must be out during these times, take an umbrella or other sunshade to shield kids from the sun.

Spending time outside is fun for the whole family. Safely have fun in the sun this summer by following these recommendations for children’s sunscreen application. By doing so, you’re protecting them from aging and skin cancer risks as adults.

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Topics: Lifestyle & Wellness


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