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Have fun in the sun - safely!

Young girl with sunscreen on her face

As the weather warms up, we’re all spending more time outdoors, and that means more time in the sun. Whether your family likes swimming, picnicking, playing sports or just hanging out in the backyard, you need to protect yourselves from UV rays.

Kids are as much at risk for sun damage as adults. Even though skin cancer is rare in children, the effects of childhood sun damage can add up, leading to cancer or premature aging in adulthood. That’s why it’s important to establish good sun safety habits when they’re young.

We’ll help make those good habits easier to start to ensure you and your crew stay safe and happy whatever you’re up to this summer.

What are some common myths about sun safety?

Myth: You can’t get burned when it’s cloudy.
Fact: You can get sun damage no matter the weather. Always use sun protection when you will be outside.

Myth: It's OK to tan if you don't burn.
Fact: Any skin darkening or freckling from sun exposure is a sign of sun damage.

Myth: Darker skin doesn't need sun protection.
Fact: Although dark skin has some measure of UV protection, people with deeper skin tones can still experience sun damage, skin cancer and other adverse effects of sun exposure.

Myth: Using sun protection will result in a vitamin D deficiency.
Fact: There are no studies showing that sun protection leads to vitamin D deficiency.

What age should kids wear sunscreen?

Any child 6 months of age or older can safely wear sunscreen. Infants younger than 6 months should stay out of direct sun. If you have to be outside with them, keep them shaded and covered with clothing, and you may apply a small amount of sunscreen to any exposed skin.

What type of sunscreen is safest for kids?

Standing at the store in front of shelves full of sunscreen can be overwhelming. We recommend you look at a few factors for the best sun protection. 

  • Physical blockers, sometimes called mineral sunscreen, containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are the safest choice for kids. These are especially great for young ones with sensitive skin. Mineral sunscreen works by sitting on top of the skin and reflecting the sun’s rays away so it is not absorbed by the body. That does mean it is harder to rub in and can leave a white hue visible on the skin, though more options are becoming available that minimize the residue.
  • If your child refuses to wear mineral sunscreen, chemical sunscreen is a good option. It works by absorbing the sun’s rays, converting them to heat and then releasing them from the body. The FDA is continuing to look into the safety of chemical sunscreen ingredients, but the ingredients currently on the market are believed to be safe.
  • Lotions and creams are preferred over sprays. We know spray-on sunscreen is convenient, but it’s hard to tell how much is actually getting applied and it comes with a risk of inhaling the sunscreen. Sunscreen sticks are good for the face because they reduce the chance of sunscreen getting in kids’ eyes.
  • SPF 30+ is the minimum sun protection kids should use for the best protection from UVA and UVB rays. Feel free to go higher, but just know that a higher SPF doesn’t mean you can go longer without reapplying. You still need to reapply kids’ sunscreen every 1.5-2 hours, or more often if they are swimming or sweating.

How do I make it less of a pain to put sunscreen on my kids?

      Make it a habit so it’s not a big deal. Start with the sunscreen when they’re young and they’ll get used to it over time. Put it on them whenever they’ll be spending time outside, not just on pool or beach days.

      Give them some control. If they have opinions about scent, give them choices about which sunscreen to buy or apply. When it’s time to put the sunscreen on, let them pick whether you rub it in or they do. Give them a choice between applying it in dots or lines.

      Distract them. Let them play their favorite song, game or video while you apply the sunscreen. Give them something else to occupy their mind. 

What other kinds of sun protection should kids use?

Sunscreen is an important mode of defense against harmful UV rays, but it’s not the only way to keep littles safe. Used in combination with sunscreen, these items offer your little beach bum maximum protection.

      UV protective clothing - From rash guards and swimsuits to everyday shorts and shirts, clothes with an ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) block the sun’s rays. If you can’t access UPF clothing, dark-colored, tightly woven garments offer better protection than lightly colored, loosely-woven garments.

      Hats - Most hats offer protection for a kid’s scalp, but the best hats offer protection for their face, ears, neck and even shoulders. The wider the brim, the better. 

      Sunglasses - Protect their eyes and eyelids with shades that have 100 percent UVA/UVB protection or 100 percent UV 400. They should be marked on the lenses.

      Lip balm with SPF - Avoid the gross-out of getting sunscreen in their mouths by using a lip balm made especially for sun protection.

      Sun shades - If you’re going to be somewhere with no natural shade from trees or shelters, pack a portable shade structure or umbrella. You’ll be glad you did.

Are there any medications that make kids' skin extra sensitive to the sun?

Sun protection is especially important for kids taking medications that increase sun sensitivity. 

These are some of the most common types of medication that have such an effect:

      Some acne medications, oral and topical

      Some antibiotics and antifungals - ask your child’s health care provider or pharmacist whether any medicine prescribed to your child increases sun sensitivity.

How do I treat my kids sunburn?

As hard as we try to be careful in the sun, sometimes sunburns happen. If your little resembles a lobster, ease their discomfort with some reliable after-sun care.

      Keep them out of the sun while their sunburn heals. Skin is extra sensitive after a burn.

      Give them a cool bath and apply moisturizer to the burn after you dry them off.

      Apply hydrocortisone cream to reduce inflammation. Make it extra soothing by cooling it in the refrigerator first.

      Give them ibuprofen for pain and inflammation if you know they respond well to ibuprofen for other conditions.

      Keep them from messing with blisters or peeling skin. Let the healing process take its natural course.

      See their medical provider if they have a fever, chills, headache or severe blistering.

Hopefully these tips help you feel more prepared to take on the sunny summer days ahead with your kiddos. Get out there and make some great memories together.

Pediatric Dermatology