Sunscreen For Your Kids: 5 Things Every Parent Should Know

 

Summer’s here and your kids are likely spending more and more time outside enjoying the sunny weather.

But no matter how they spend their days, whether they’re at the pool or the park, if they are outside kids need to wear sunscreen! It’s our job as parents to ensure we choose the best sunscreen for them, and to make sure it’s applied well. Here are some tips to help guide you in the right direction when choosing a sunscreen for your kids:

Difference Between Mineral and Chemical. Most pediatricians tend to recommend choosing a “mineral” or “chemical-free” sunscreen made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Sunscreens with these ingredients sit on top of the skin, forming a barrier against the sun’s rays and start protecting as soon as you put them on. Chemical products (such as avobenzone, homosalate and octisalate), on the other hand, need to be slathered on 15 to 30 minutes in advance to give the skin time to absorb them. There’s no proven evidence that chemical sunscreens are dangerous or toxic, but they may cause irritation or allergic reactions because the skin absorbs the active ingredients. So, if you decide to use a chemical-based sunscreen, do a patch test first to make sure your child won’t have a reaction to it. Apply a small amount to the inside of the upper arm. If your child develops a rash or redness at the site by the next day, choose another formula instead. Note that while zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are typically known as “sunblocks,” other sunscreens (whether based on chemicals or on ingredients that physically block the sun) may also have the word “sunblock” on the label. The best way to know what you’re getting is to check the label for ingredients.

Adorable toddler girl at tropical beach playing with sand
Choosing mineral-based sunscreens are a good choice for kids.

SPF 30 is key. You may have heard you should look for a “broad-spectrum” product that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Any sunscreen that contains the physical blocker zinc oxide or titanium dioxide will do this. The sun protection factor (SPF) should be at least 15, but you generally don’t need to go higher than 30: Over than that and you’re getting smaller and smaller amounts of added protection – which, in a chemical sunscreen, means a higher dose of unwanted chemicals.

Children’s Sunscreen vs Regular Sunscreen. It’s fine to use a “children’s” sunscreen, but don’t go out of your way to buy one of these. According to Consumer Reports, they’re usually not different from the adult versions. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t make a distinction between kids sunscreen and other types, nor does it hold sunscreen to a higher safety standard for children. When it comes to inactive ingredients, the fragrance might be different in a kids product or it may not contain chemicals that could cause stinging or tearing. But in most cases the list of inactive and active ingredients are the same in the adult and kids formulas.

What About Sprays?

rear view of a young boy getting his back sprayed with sunscreen lotion
Sprays are not considered best for kids.

About half of people who buy sunscreen—for kids or adults—opt for spray primarily because they’re perceived to be easier to apply. However, you may be giving up coverage for convenience. It can be hard to judge just how much sunscreen is actually getting onto your skin when you use a spray, and factors like spray pattern or how windy it is outside can increase the odds of missing a spot. There’s also the risk of lung irritation if you inhale the spray, and spray sunscreens are flammable if you get too close to an open flame (like a grill) before they’re thoroughly dry.  Because of those safety concerns, Consumer Reports doesn’t recommend spray sunscreens for children. Similarly, some studies indicate that people tend to apply too little sunscreen when using sticks. For these reasons, lotions are considered best when it comes to choosing a sunscreen for your little ones.

Lather Up! Lay the sunscreen on thickly, making sure every part of your child’s body gets a good coating. Pay special attention to burn-prone areas like the ears, nose, back of the neck, and shoulders. Some sunscreens have a bright tint when you apply them and then fade to clear in a few minutes, making it easier to tell if you’re covering every inch of your child’s vulnerable skin. Reapply sunscreen often. Waterproof sunscreens may be slightly hardier than other products, but don’t trust a label that promises to protect for eight hours. That’s only accurate if your child stays perfectly still for the whole day! In the real world he’ll need more sunscreen every two hours or every time he gets wet or is dried off with a towel. We know that applying sunscreen to your child is no easy task. Try bribing them with our all-natural vitamin lollipops to get them to sit still while you apply!

It’s important, too, to remember that damaging UV rays can penetrate all types of skin, regardless of your ethnicity, so even people with dark skin need sunscreen. In addition, sunscreen is just one part of a good sun protection strategy for both children and adults. You also need to cover up, wear a hat, sunglasses and take breaks from the sun under a beach umbrella, sun tent or a shady tree. Also be sure to drink plenty of water. For some healthy snack suggestions to bring to the beach, read our blog: Easy On The Go Vitamin C Snacks.

 


About the Author

Becca Greenwald 

Health-conscientious (and tired) mama to two adorable little boys, writing from my own experiences. @beccababybrody

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