One of the cardinal rules of summer is that you don’t let your kids get a sunburn.
While a really great rule, it misses that you also shouldn’t let them get a tan either, and the rule doesn’t just apply to summer.
That’s were sunscreen comes in. Slop it on.
Sunscreens for Kids
Are sunscreens safe for kids?
As with insect repellents, despite all of the warning about chemicals and toxins that you might read on the internet, the answer is of course they are. In fact, most sunscreens can even be used on infants as young as age six months. And it is certainly better than letting your kids get sunburned!
You do have to use them correctly though.
Choosing a Safe and Effective Sunscreen
Which sunscreen should you use?
Many parents are surprised that there are actually a lot of different ingredients in sunscreens, from Aminobenzoic acid and Octocrylene to Zinc Oxide.
While some are physical sunscreens (Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide), others are chemical sunscreens. Some provide UVA protection, some UVB protection, and some offer both. And not surprisingly, some have become controversial, especially retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) and oxybenzone.
All are thought to be safe though.
Which is best?
When choosing a sunscreen, start with the fact that none should usually be used on infants under six months of age. Otherwise, choose the product (whatever the brand, to be honest, whether it is Banana Boat, Blue Lizard, Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic, Neutrogena, or Target) best suited to your child’s needs, especially considering that:
- sun tan lotion and tanning oil should be avoided
- SPF 8 only blocks 87 percent of UVB rays and should be avoided
- SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays (minimum you should use)
- SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of UVB rays (good for daily use)
- SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UVB rays (good for daily use)
- SPF 50+ don’t offer much more UVB protection and may encourage folks to stay in the sun longer than they should, putting them at even more risk from UVA rays
- a broad-spectrum sunscreen provides both UVA and UVB protection
- even if your kids don’t go in the water, a sunscreen that is water-resistant might stay on better if they are sweating or get sprayed with water
In addition to the active ingredient and it’s SPF, you can now decide if you want a sunscreen that is in a spray, mist, cream, lotion, or stick. You can then pick one that is fragrance free, PABA free (of course), tear free, oil free (important if your kids have acne), for your baby or your kid playing sports, for someone with sensitive skin, or goes on dry.
Or would you like your child’s sunscreen whipped???
While parents and kids often seem to prefer spray sunscreens, do keep in mind the warnings about inhaling the spray and that some experts are concerned that they make it harder to apply a generous amount on your child. How much of the spray goes off in the wind? How much end up in an oily spot on the floor? If you use a spray sunscreen, follow the directions, rub it in, and don’t spray it in your child’s face. Also, don’t spray sunscreen on your child near an open flame.
Most importantly, you want to choose a sunscreen that will help you get in a good routine of using properly and using all of the time. Personally, I like all of the newer non-greasy lotions for kids and adults that have come out in the last few years. They are easy to apply, even in generous amounts, and work well.
Using Sunscreens on Kids
Now that you have chosen your sunscreen, be sure to use it properly.
“An average-sized adult or child needs at least one ounce of sunscreen (about the amount it takes to fill a shot glass) to evenly cover the body from head to toe.”
Do your kids still get burned or tanned despite using sunscreen? They aren’t immune to sunscreen. You are probably just making one or more common sunscreen mistakes, like not using enough sunscreen (start using a lot more), waiting until you’re already outside before applying it on your kids (you want to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before you go outside so that it has time to get absorbed into their skin), or not reapplying it often enough (sunscreen should be reapplied every few hours or more often if your kids are swimming or sweating a lot).
How long does a 6 or 8 ounce container of sunscreen last you? Remember that if you are applying an ounce before your kids go outside, reapplying it every few hours, and using it on most days (not just in the summer), then it shouldn’t last very long at all.
For the best protection and to avoid mistakes, be sure to read the label and follow your sunscreen’s instructions carefully, and also:
- encourage your kids to seek shade and wear protective clothing (especially hats, sunglasses, and UPF sun-safe clothing), in addition to wearing sun screen for extra sun protection
- use sunscreen every time they go outside, even when it’s cloudy
- reduce or limit your child’s sun exposure when UV rays are strongest, which is usually from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. (and all of the way to 4 p.m. in most areas), especially on days when the UV index is moderate or high and/or when there is a UV Alert in your area.
If you forget something, remember slip, slop, slap, seek, and slide.
Facts about Sunscreens and Sun Protection for Kids
Other things to know about sunscreen and sun protection for kids include that:
- Waiting for improvements to sunscreen labels and new requirements for sunscreens? The FDA made their ‘big changes’ to sunscreens back in 2011. The main things that got left were the SPF cap and the rating system for UVA protection.
- Tanning beds are not a safe alternative to getting a tan outside in the sun.
- It is not safe to get a base tan. It won’t protect you from a sunburn and it increases your chance of future melanoma.
- Still confused about how much sunscreen to use? Another handy rule is that a handful of sunscreen (fill to cover the palm of their cupped hand) should be a generous amount that’s enough to cover your child’s entire body. Since bigger kids have bigger hands, that should help you adjust the amount for different-size kids and as they get older.
- Avoid combination sunscreen/insect repellent products. Use separate products instead, applying the sunscreen first and reapplying the sunscreen every few hours as necessary. Since you don’t typically reapply insect repellents (unless you are going to be outside for a really long time), if your child starts to get bitten, next time, you will likely need to consider using an insect repellent with a different active ingredient or at least one with a stronger concentration that might last longer.
- SPF is only a measure of the sunscreen’s level of protection against UVB rays, but does say anything about UVA protection. A sunscreen that is labeled as being broad spectrum should protect against both UVA and UVB radiation.
- According to the FDA, “SPF is not directly related to time of solar exposure but to amount of solar exposure.” What does that mean? While you can stay in the sun longer when protected with a sunscreen, no matter the SPF, it doesn’t tell you how long. Other factors, including the time of day, weather conditions, and even your location will help determine how quickly your skin will burn.
- Sunscreens should be stored in a cool place and be thrown away after they expire. While it might be convenient, your car is not a good place to store your sunscreen.
Ready for some fun in the sun now? You sure you won’t come home with a sunburn or a dark tan?
What To Know About Sunscreens for Kids
Applying a generous amount of a water-resistant sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum SPF 15 to 30 sun protection at least 15 to 30 minutes before your child is going to be in the sun, reapplying every few hours, can help keep your kids safe in the sun.
More About Sunscreens for Kids
- Current Sunscreen Controversies Impeding Patient Compliance
- AAP – Sun Safety: Information for Parents About Sunburn & Sunscreen
- CDC – How Can I Protect My Children from the Sun?
- FDA – Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun
- EPA – Action Steps for Sun Safety
- EPA – Sun Safety
- Children and sun – Practical information for parents
- Skin Cancer Foundation’s Guide to Sunscreen
- Shopping for sunscreen: Are all brands equal?
- Sun protection and makeup
- FDA – Should You Put Sunscreen on Infants? Not Usually
- AAD – Sunscreen FAQs
- How to Read a Sunscreen Label
- Study – New Insights About Infant and Toddler Skin: Implications for Sun Protection
- Teen Tanners – The New Faces of Melanoma
- Nanoparticles and sunscreen
- Be SunSmart
Last Updated on June 28, 2017 by Vincent Iannelli, MD