We all know the best way to protect our children from the sun’s damaging
rays is to limit their exposure. But sometimes, that’s easier said than
done. (Have you ever tried to
put sunscreen on a toddler?) For that reason, many dermatologists recommend a multi-pronged approach:
sunscreen, shade, and protective clothing to ensure maximum coverage.
Besides staying out of the sun entirely (which, as any parent will tell
you, is entirely unrealistic when you have children of any age), the best
way to protect your kids from the sun is to
slather them in sunscreen. But before you douse your kids from head to toe, there are a few tips to
keep in mind when you’re wrangling your crocodile, err, 2-year-old.
Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before your child goes outside. If you think
it’s difficult to apply sunscreen to your child at home, it’s about ten
times worse when you are already at the beach/park/playground, there’s sand
or dirt everywhere, and all your child wants to do is play.
Use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen that is SPF (Sun Protection
Factor) 30 or higher. Broad-spectrum sunscreen is important because it
protects against both UVA and UVB rays. And trust me, you don’t want a
cranky, sunburned child.
Make sure you are covering often-overlooked spots such as ears, scalp, tops
of feet, back of neck, shoulders, and backs of hands. Don’t forget lips,
too, which can be protected by lip balms that contain SPF. If it’s not
covered by clothing or a hat, make sure to cover it with SPF.
Reapply sunscreen every two to three hours, or after sweating or swimming.
Avoid spray sunscreens. They don’t protect your kids from the sun very well
because their coverage is spotty, and they can easily be inhaled. Stick
sunscreens can be used but you need about four passes on each area of skin
to be fully effective.
best sunscreens for kids
are mineral-based sunscreens (technically called “sunblocks”) which sit on
the surface of your skin and create a physical barrier that blocks UV rays
and prevents them from entering the skin. These are recommended by
dermatologists because they do not contain potential hormone disruptors.
The most active ingredients in mineral sunscreens are usually zinc oxide or
titanium dioxide, and they are often free of many irritating or harmful
chemicals such as parabens, phthalates, fragrances, and dyes.
Squirmy kid? Make a game out of it. Tell your kid to put out their
“airplane arms,” play “Simon says,” or even sing a song. Whatever works!
Ideally you should be using sunscreen every day, so in theory, you
shouldn’t have last summer’s bottle of sunscreen sitting around when it’s
time to head to the beach this summer. If you are wondering about
expiration dates, the FDA requires that all
sunscreens retain their original strength
for at least three years.
Since sunscreens are not recommended for babies under six months of age,
American Academy of Dermatology
Skin Cancer Foundation
advise keeping your infant out of the sun entirely. Make sure they are in
shade or under an umbrella. If they have to be exposed to the sun, dress
them in lightweight long sleeves and pants, a hat with a wide brim, and
Beyond SPF: Other ways to protect your kids from the sun
As the mother of two young children, I can attest to the fact that while
sunscreen is a godsend, you can only ever be about 75 percent sure you’ve
adequately covered your children. (Children are very squirmy.)
Luckily, you can double up your
by combining one of the below recommendations with sunscreen, which,
hopefully, will bring you closer to 100 percent coverage.
- Stick to the shade during peak sun exposure
. The sun is usually strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your kids are
outside during this time, apply and reapply sunscreen — even if they’re
just playing in the yard. It’s important to remember that most sun damage
happens during everyday activities, not from being at the beach or on
vacation. This is especially true on cloudy days. Children can get skin
damage even when it’s cloudy, overcast, or cool. Make sure you protect your
kids from the sun (even if you can’t see the sun)
whenever they’re outside.
- Invest in some sun-blocking rash guards.
The easiest way to protect your kids from the sun and reduce the amount of
kid-wrangling you have to do is to cover as much as surface area you can.
That’s why I love rash guards for myself and my children. The long-sleeved
spandex swim shirts cover more skin, which translates to less skin that I
have to cover with sunscreen — a win for parents everywhere.
If your child will keep them on, hats and sunglasses are no-brainers.
The scalp is especially prone to the sun’s rays and eyes are also
susceptible to sun damage. There are a variety of UPF 50+ hats with extra
wide brims and neck coverage that are perfect for children on-the-go. If
your kid won’t wear a hat, try wearing a hat yourself. Oftentimes, this can
encourage your kid to wear one.
- Invest in an umbrella, canopy, or beach tent.
For non-mobile babies, beach tents and umbrellas can be lifesavers. For
active, more older kids, there are larger beach canopies that allow more
movement under shade. Children go to where the fun is, so if you set up a
play area under a canopy (perhaps with a blow-up kiddie pool and sand
toys?), you can protect your kids from the sun while still bringing the
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About Sarah Bishop
I’m a writer and bookworm who loves learning and writing about the latest
health and wellness topics. Like a true Gemini, I’m a walking dichotomy. I
like kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, but I also like ice cream, fried
chicken, and cheese. So, I’m always fighting the good fight. As the mom of
two little girls, I strive to model healthy habits that my daughters will
carry with them for life.