How to Choose Sunscreen for Children

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and ultraviolet radiation from sunlight is a big contributor to skin cancers. Needless to say, sunscreen is an important part of sun safety for children. Simply put, sunscreen helps reduce exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which helps prevent sun damage. There is a bit of confusion over the proper use and effectiveness of sunscreen, however. Here is some information to help you understand how to choose sunscreen for children.

UVA and UVB radiation

Sunlight contains both UVA radiation and UVB radiation. UVA rays penetrates deep into the skin and are associated with premature aging of skin cells. UVB rays damage the skin’s surface and are associated with sunburn. Both types of UV radiation can contribute to skin cancer, however.

“Broad-spectrum” sunscreen offers protection against both UVA and UVB radiation.

What is SPF?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. The higher the SPF rating, the more protection a sunscreen offers. However, the SPF rating doesn’t directly indicate the effectiveness of a sunscreen.

For example, SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB radiation, and SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of UVB radiation. So, SPF 30 offers more protection than SPF 15, but not double the protection. Furthermore, the difference in protection gets smaller the higher the SPF rating. SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UVB radiation, and SPF 100 blocks 99 percent.

Keep in mind that the SPF value does not influence how often you should reapply sunscreen. Higher SPF ratings can sometimes give some people a false sense of security and they might ignore other sun safety measures.

How to choose sunscreen for children

When choosing sunscreen for children, look for SPF 30 or higher, “broad-spectrum” sunscreens that are water-resistant. There are, of course, a wide range of sunscreens.

  • Lotions are best for covering large areas or skin.
  • Gels are ideal for hairlines.
  • Sticks are great for sensitive areas like around the eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Spray sunscreen is certainly convenient, but it has its drawbacks. It’s sometimes difficult to tell if sprays have been applied adequately, they can be accidentally inhaled, and some are flammable.

Can you put sunscreen on a baby?

It’s recommended that you keep babies younger than 6 months out of the sun. Babies older than 6 months can have sunscreen on exposed skin. Consider protective clothing that provides ample coverage, and ask your doctor about applying sunscreen to your baby.

How to use sunscreen

  • Apply your first layer of sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outside.
  • Carry sunscreen with you and reapply every 2 hours, or as directed on the packaging. Those with fair skin may need to reapply more frequently.
  • Cover all exposed skin with sunscreen, including face, ears, neck, and use an SPF lip balm.
  • Apply sunscreen generously. Don’t worry about making sunscreen last.
  • Set a good role model for your children and apply sunscreen, too. The average adult needs roughly one ounce of sunscreen to cover exposed areas of skin.
  • While some sunscreens are water resistant, no sunscreen is waterproof. Reapply sunscreen after swimming or sweating.
  • Test sunscreen in a small area before applying all over.
  • Sunscreen is needed even if it’s cloudy.

Other sun safety tips for children

Sunscreen is an important part of sun safety for children as well as adults, and it should definitely be used when spending time outdoors or exposed to sunlight for an extended period of time. Don’t rely on sunscreen alone, however.

Sunscreen isn’t a shield force field that will make your child impervious to UV radiation. Children shouldn’t stay in the sun with sunscreen longer than they would without sunscreen. There are other things that you should do for sun safety, as well.

  • Avoid peak sunlight hours.
  • Seek shade.
  • Avoid exposure to direct sunlight for extended periods.
  • Wear loose-fitting protective clothing (lightweight shirts with long sleeves), hats, and sunglasses.
  • Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.