Choosing — and properly using — sunscreen for your child can be confusing. Here’s what you need to know to keep your child’s skin protected this summer.
If your child is spending time in the sun this summer, they should be wearing sunscreen. However, sun protection can get a little overwhelming when you’re standing in the sunscreen aisle and facing a panoply of options, and many parents are understandably unsure of how to choose — and how to use — the right sunscreen for their children.
Fortunately, following a few simple rules of thumb can make buying and using sunscreen a breeze. First and foremost, it’s vital to choose a sunscreen that will effectively protect your child’s skin from UV rays — beyond that, your product of choice largely comes down to personal preference.
What to Look for in Your Child’s Sunscreen
When you’re choosing a sunscreen, look for one with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. You should also check to ensure that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays — sunscreens that protect against both are often called “broad-spectrum” sunscreens.
Additionally, reaching for a water-resistant sunscreen is often a good choice, especially if your child is likely to be sweating or swimming when they’re outdoors. Most water-resistant sunscreens will protect your child for up to 80 minutes while they’re in the water.
You should also be sure to check the ingredients of any sunscreen before adding it to your cart, as some sunscreens contain para-aminobenzoic acid, which can trigger allergic reactions. Further, if your child has particularly sensitive skin, you should seek out a sunscreen that has titanium dioxide listed as an active ingredient.
Finally, you’ll have to make a decision about the type of sunscreen you buy — a cream, gel, spray, or stick. Generally speaking, we recommend that you avoid choosing sprays; they’re sometimes flammable, and can make it difficult to gauge whether you’ve applied enough sun protection. Creams, gels, and sticks are all equally viable options. Creams tend to be a good choice for the body, especially in dryer areas. Sticks, on the other hand, are good for the face, particularly around the eyes. Gels are good for areas with hair, like the arms and the scalp.
How to Use Sunscreen Correctly
It’s important to apply sunscreen any time your kids may be exposed to sunlight for a prolonged period — during the summer, that may mean every day. To give sunscreen time to soak in, you should apply it 15 to 30 minutes before your child goes outside. Use roughly one ounce — equal to a shot glass — to cover your child’s body, and apply lip balm with SPF to their lips.
You should reapply sunscreen every two hours (more frequently if your child is swimming or sweating profusely). If you’re unsure whether you’re using enough sunscreen, go ahead and apply more — when it comes to sun exposure, you’re always better safe than sorry.
Of course, plenty of kids and teens resist wearing sunscreen — it can feel sticky or gooey, and applying it often gets in the way of their playtime or their tan. If this is true of your child, talk to them about sunscreen strategies on which you can agree. Choosing a scented sunscreen or a glitter-filled option might make them more amenable to sun protection.
If you have any more questions about finding a sunscreen option that works well for you and your child, reach out to Kids’ Health. Our private pediatric practice in Beverly, Massachusetts, is committed to helping your child shine as brightly as the sun during every season.