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Sunscreen Usage in Children: Protecting Kids from the Sun

June 1, 2023

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As parents, our goal is always to have happy and healthy children. While keeping them away from danger is top of mind, one aspect of daily life you may not consider to be dangerous is the sun. It’s imperative to understand how sunscreen usage in children keeps your little ones safe from the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays. You don’t have to keep your kids out of the sun to keep them safe, but you do need to have some tricks up your sleeve to help them avoid burns today and long-lasting effects in the future.

The Risks of Sun Exposure—Today and Tomorrow

The goal of protecting your child from the sun is to avoid potential sunburns. Not only are they painful today, but their effects can be felt far into the future. That’s because of the damage to the skin caused by the sun’s harmful rays. In most cases, you don’t see the pink (or red) of the burn until after sun damage has occurred. And did you know that a minor burn is considered a first-degree burn, while prolonged sun exposure can result in a second-degree burn? The latter presents itself with bubbles and peeling.

The more sunburns incurred during childhood, the higher the chance of having skin cancer in the affected areas as an adult. Plus, a child’s skin is more sensitive than an adult’s, which means she can burn faster and more easily than you can. Too much exposure to the sun—and accompanying sunburns—can result in issues other than skin cancer, including premature aging and sunspots.

The Importance of Sunscreen Usage in Children

Before you send your child out to play on a beautiful summer day, be sure to lather him up with sunscreen. Look for a broad-spectrum option that has an SPF of 30 or higher. Broad-spectrum provides comprehensive protection against UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate to the deep layers of the skin, leading to skin damage in the future, whereas UVB rays reach the top skin layers and result in that immediate sunburn. Since most kids are active, in and out of water, and sweating, opt for a water-resistant sunscreen.

Remember to protect kids’ lips as well, which can get chapped and burned by the sun. There are several options for lip balms with added SPF, a good addition to your pre-play sunscreen routine.

Best Tips for Applying Sunscreen

Until your child gets the hang of putting on sunscreen correctly, be sure to supervise and provide direction. There is a right way and a wrong way to administer sunscreen usage in children. Follow these suggestions for applying sunscreen:

  1. Use it generously and cover all exposed areas of the skin. This can include the obvious—face, arms, and legs—but remember to apply sunscreen on the ears, back of the neck, and top of the feet as well.
  2. Sunscreen usage in children is most effective when applied prior to heading outside. Read the label on your bottle and you’ll find that most suggest applying 15–30 minutes before heading out to ensure the sunscreen is properly absorbed.
  3. Reapply regularly. This includes after swimming and when the child is sweating excessively. When your child comes inside for a drink of water, it’s time to reapply sunscreen.
  4. Don’t limit sunscreen usage in children to sunny days. The sun’s rays can be harmful even on cloudy days, and when reflected off the snow, they can burn even faster. Make a habit of using sunscreen year-round.

Lead by Example

Our children are sponges, and they love to mimic what Mom and Dad do. Show your child that you are putting on sunscreen before you go out. Not only will this help them learn to be responsible about sun protection, but it will help you as well! Moms, consider face lotion and foundation with added SPF and let your kiddos know that you base your purchases on whether the product includes sun protection.

Protection Beyond Sunscreen

Sunscreen usage in children is key to good protection from harmful UV rays, but it’s not the only way to ward off sunburn and skin damage. In addition to a regular routine of applying sunscreen, include other protective measures, such as wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and lightweight clothing (some of which comes with UV protection!). It’s best to avoid playing out in the full sun when it’s at its peak, typically between 10 am and 4 pm in the US. If you must be outside then, take regular breaks from the sun and be sure to cover up.

We Care About Your Children’s Skin

At Community Choice Pediatrics, we are dedicated to the well-being of your children. If you have any questions or concerns about sunscreen usage in children or any other pediatric-related topics, we’re here for you. Together, we can create a safe and healthy environment for your little ones to thrive.