Should I Put Sunscreen on My Child Every Day?
Parents want to do everything they can to protect their children. One of the biggest threats to a child’s health is sun exposure. UV radiation from the sun can lead to sunburns, skin damage, and even skin cancer. This leaves many parents wondering: should I put sunscreen on my child every day?
The short answer is yes, you should apply sunscreen to your child every day, even when it’s cloudy. But there are some caveats to this recommendation. Keep reading to learn more about the benefits and best practices of using daily sunscreen on babies and children.
Why Sunscreen is Important for Children
Sunscreen is arguably the best way to protect your child’s skin from sun damage. Here are some key reasons why sunscreen matters:
- Prevents Sunburns: Sunburns are painful and can cause lasting skin damage. Babies and children are especially vulnerable to burning.
- Reduces Skin Cancer Risk: UV exposure raises the risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers later in life. Sunscreen is a proven method to lower this risk.
- Protects Against Premature Aging: The sun’s UV rays break down collagen and elastin fibers that keep skin firm and youthful. Using sunscreen prevents this photodamage.
- Blocks Harmful UV Rays: There are two types of UV radiation that damage skin – UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen contains ingredients that absorb or reflect these rays.
- Works Even When Cloudy: Clouds do not block all UV radiation, so sun exposure on cloudy days can still lead to burns and other issues.
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “sunscreen should be used on infants and children starting at 6 months of age.” So you should start applying sunscreen regularly once your child is 6 months old.
Finding the Right Sunscreen for Kids
Not all sunscreens are created equal when it comes to babies and children. Here are some tips for picking an effective kid-safe sunscreen:
- SPF 30+: Choose a sunscreen with a minimum SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 to block 97% of UVB rays. Higher SPF (50+) blocks slightly more.
- Broad-spectrum: Ensure the sunscreen protects from both UVA and UVB rays. Look for the terms “broad-spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on the label.
- Water resistance: For swimming or play in the water, select a water-resistant sunscreen that states it remains effective after 40-80 minutes of water exposure.
- Pediatrician-approved: Look for sunscreens made just for babies and kids, often labeled as “gentle” or “sensitive”. Check company claims with your pediatrician.
- No harsh chemicals: Avoid oxybenzone, which can produce skin reactions and potentially disrupt hormones. Go for mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
- Hypoallergenic: Children with sensitive skin need an unscented, allergy-tested sunscreen free of irritating fragrances and chemicals.
- Non-greasy: Thick, greasy sunscreens feel unpleasant on kids. Pick lighter lotions, creams, or sticks that rub in easily.
Using sunscreen sticks on the cheeks, nose and ears is often easiest when applying to squirming toddlers. Spray sunscreens work for older kids who can stand still during application.
How Much Sunscreen for Children
To get the promised sun protection, it’s crucial to apply the recommended amount of sunscreen on exposed skin. For children over 6 months, the general rule is:
- 1 ounce per application: That’s enough to fill a shot glass. Spread over all exposed areas.
- Reapply every 2 hours: Reapply after swimming/sweating or after rubbing/wiping skin.
- Don’t miss tricky spots: Get the ears, feet, neck, tops of hands, etc. Apply everywhere the sun will hit.
- Rub it in well: Apply 15 minutes before sun exposure. Rub the sunscreen in thoroughly until it disappears into the skin.
- Use with other methods: Combine sunscreen with protective clothing, hats, shade breaks, and avoiding peak sun hours.
To get an accurate 1 ounce measurement when applying sunscreen to children:
- Squeeze the amount from tube onto your fingers and spread onto child’s skin.
- Use a measuring spoon to scoop out the right amount, then apply.
- Pump sunscreen spray into your palm to visualize how much to use.
- Invest in an appliance that dispenses 1 oz portions of sunscreen.
Creating a Daily Sunscreen Routine
Making sunscreen application a habit is key, so it becomes an automatic part of your family’s daily routine. Here are some tips for creating a daily sunscreen routine:
- Make it part of getting dressed: Apply sunscreen as you’re dressing your child to go outside in the morning.
- Keep it visible: Store sunscreen somewhere obvious like by the outside door so it’s impossible to miss.
- Apply before daycare: If your child goes to daycare, apply sunscreen before drop off each morning. Request staff reapply mid-day.
- Do body then face: Squirt sunscreen onto hands and spread over body, then apply a small amount gently to face.
- Set phone reminders: Set a daily reminder on your phone to prompt you to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours when outdoors.
- Make it fun: Sing a “sunscreen song” or turn application into a game to gain your child’s cooperation. Offer fun sticker rewards.
- Reapply at camp: Send sunscreen with your child to camp and instruct counselors when it needs to be reapplied.
With consistent use and making it a habit, your child will get used to having sunscreen applied regularly without fussing.
Sunscreen Safety Tips for Kids
While critical for sun protection, sunscreen does involve some safety considerations:
- Avoid eyes: Sunscreen can irritate eyes. Carefully apply around eyes and wipe away any that gets too close.
- Avoid mouth: While small amounts swallowed won’t cause harm, avoid applying sunscreen too close to the mouth.
- Monitor reactions: Watch for any skin reactions like redness or itching, which may indicate sensitivity to ingredients.
- Don’t use expired tubes: Sunscreen effectiveness can decrease after the expiration date. Replace old tubes regularly.
- Store in cool place: Heat can break down sunscreen. Find a cool, dry place out of the sun to store bottles.
- Keep handy: Having sunscreen handy ensures you’ll actually use it! Keep tubes in your car, bag, stroller, pool bag, etc.
- Limit sprays: While quick, spray sunscreens pose an inhalation risk if your child moves or it’s windy. Use sparingly.
- Don’t rely solely on sunscreen: Use sunscreen as part of a sun protection strategy rather than your only defense.
By properly applying kid-friendly sunscreen and taking safety precautions, you can fully enjoy the sun protection benefits.
Sun Protection Beyond Sunscreen
While sunscreen is a fundamental part of protecting your child from the sun, don’t forget about other sun safety strategies like:
- UV-blocking clothes: Have your child wear lightweight, tightly-woven clothes that cover skin when outdoors.
- Wide brim hats: A hat with a 3+ inch brim shades your child’s face, ears and neck.
- Sunglasses: Buy sunglasses with UV protection to shield your child’s eyes from rays.
- Shade: Plan outdoor time in the shade of trees, umbrellas or canopies as much as possible.
- Limit peak hours: Avoid prolonged sun exposure between 10am and 4pm when UV rays are strongest.
- Cover strollers: Dress infant strollers or carriers with shades or sun covers.
- Cloudy days: Don’t skip sun protection on cloudy days. UV rays still penetrate through clouds.
Combining vigilant sunscreen use with other smart sun protection strategies will provide the best sun defense.
The Takeaway: Sunscreen Your Kids Every Day
Our skin accumulates sun damage from UV rays over time, so it’s vital to think about sun protection early and daily to minimize that damage. Following the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and applying sunscreen to your baby or child every day once they are 6 months, using proper amounts, and combining it with other sun safety practices is the best way to protect your child’s skin both now and in the future. While it takes some effort, making sunscreen application a habit when your child is young helps cement it as a lifelong sun safe practice.
Frequently Asked Questions About Sunscreen Use on Children
Here are answers to some common questions parents have about using sunscreen on babies and kids:
Is sunscreen safe for babies under 6 months?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no sunscreen use until 6 months of age. Infants’ skin is extremely sensitive and absorbs chemicals easier. For babies under 6 months, rely on protective clothing, shade and avoiding peak sun times instead.
What SPF is best for kids?
SPF 30 that blocks 97% of UVB rays is usually recommended as the minimum for children. SPF 50 blocks about 98% of rays. Higher SPF like 70+ can provide marginally better protection but need reapplied super diligently.
How often should I reapply sunscreen on my child?
Reapply at least every 2 hours. Also reapply immediately after swimming, sweating excessively, or drying off with a towel which can remove sunscreen. Extended sun exposure like at the beach or pool will require more frequent application.
Is sunscreen safe for my child to ingest in small amounts?
While you want to avoid kids ingesting sunscreen, swallowing small amounts like from licking lips shouldn’t cause harm. However, call your doctor if large amounts are ingested. Use zinc sunscreens around the mouth.
Are sunscreen chemicals like oxybenzone safe on kids?
Chemical sunscreens with oxybenzone are absorbed into the skin so should be limited in children. Mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sit atop the skin and are recommended as safer options.
Can I use expired sunscreen on my kids if we have nothing else?
Avoid using expired sunscreen on your children, as the ingredients may have degraded and no longer provide their original protection. Pick up new sunscreen rather than relying on old tubes.
What areas are most important to apply sunscreen on my child?
Don’t forget those tricky exposed areas like the tops of ears, feet, neck, backs of hands and legs. Apply thoroughly on the face, especially the nose, cheeks, lips and tops of ears which easily burn.
What’s the best way to get sunscreen on my squirmy toddler?
Turn application into a game, go step-by-step gently yet quickly, offer a reward like a fun sticker after, or have another person help hold them still. Using spray or stick sunscreens can make it easier.
Should my child wear sunscreen every day or only when playing outside?
Wear sunscreen daily rather than just on outdoor days, as windows don’t block all UV rays. Making it part of the morning routine ensures your child is protected regardless of the day’s activities.