With all the sunscreens available these days, choosing the right one for your kids
can be tricky. But what matters most when using a sunscreen is how well it protects
skin from UV rays.
What Kind of Sunscreen Is Best?
When buying sunscreen, there are three important things to look for. Check the
label for a sunscreen that:
has an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher
protects against both UVA and UVB rays (a "broad-spectrum" sunscreen)
is water-resistant (protects kids while in the water for 40–80 minutes)
Different Types of Sunscreen
Sunscreen comes in different types: creams, gels, sprays, and sticks. Creams are
best for dry skin areas, sticks help around the eye area, and gels are good for areas
with hair (like the scalp). Sunscreen sprays can make it hard to know if you've applied
enough, and there's a chance that kids could breathe in the fumes. Some sprays are
also flammable, so you need to avoid sparks or flames when using it.
Other Things to Know
Don't use sunscreens with PABA, which can cause skin allergies.
For sensitive skin, look for products with the active ingredient titanium dioxide.
Teens or preteens who want to use a self-tanner sunscreen should get one that
also has UV protection (many offer little or none).
Some cosmetics contain sunscreen, but usually don't offer enough protection from
the sun. Make sure your teen puts sunscreen on before applying makeup.
Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of the sun. When going outside,
dress your baby in lightweight clothes that cover arms and legs — and don't
forget a hat with a brim. If you can't avoid the sun, you can use a small amount of
sunscreen on your baby's exposed skin, like the hands and face.
How, When, and Where to Use Sunscreen
For sunscreen to do its job, it must be used correctly. Be sure to:
Apply sunscreen whenever your kids will be in the sun. For best results, apply
sunscreen about 15 to 30 minutes before kids go outside.
Don't forget about ears, hands, feet, shoulders, and behind the neck. Lift up
bathing suit straps and apply sunscreen underneath them (in case the straps shift
as a child moves). Protect lips with an SPF 30 lip balm.
Apply sunscreen generously — dermatologists recommend using 1 ounce (enough
to fill a shot glass or plastic medicine cup) to cover the exposed areas of
Reapply sunscreen often, about every 2 hours. Reapply after a child has been sweating
Apply a water-resistant sunscreen if kids will be around water or swimming. Water
reflects and intensifies the sun's rays, so kids need protection that lasts. Water-resistant
sunscreens may last up to 80 minutes in the water, and some are also sweat-resistant.
But regardless of the water-resistant label, be sure to reapply sunscreen when kids
come out of the water.
Don't worry about making a bottle of sunscreen last. Stock up, and throw out any
sunscreen that is past its expiration date or that you have had for 3 years or longer.
Who Needs Sunscreen?
Every child needs sun protection. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends
that all kids — regardless of their skin tone — wear sunscreen with an
SPF of 30 or higher. Although dark skin has more protective melanin and tans more
easily than it burns, tanning is a sign of sun damage. Dark-skinned kids also can
get painful sunburns.
And remember to be a good role model. Consistently wearing sunscreen with SPF 30
or greater and limiting your sun exposure will reduce your risk of skin damage and
teach your kids good sun sense.