Kids and Sunscreen: The Latest Advice
What the new rules are, and why
By now, you know you need to use a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 on yourself when you’re out and about. When it comes to your kids, though, the rules can seem confusing — and so can the clutter of different sunscreen brands on store shelves.
SafeBee asked experts for their golden rules on how to keep kids’ skin safe. Here’s what we learned.
Related: Are Your Sunscreen Ingredients Safe?
4 tips for choosing the right sunscreen
1. Don’t fret if the label doesn’t say it’s for kids or babies. What’s most important is the SPF (it should be a minimum of 15) and whether the label says “broad spectrum,” which means the product protects against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, both of which can cause burns and damage.
Many sunscreens for kids and babies have the same ingredients as their adult counterparts, just at a higher price. One of the few times a baby or kid formula may be advantageous? “Occasionally, baby sunscreens will have a tear-free formulation added, in case it gets in the baby’s eyes,” says Rhonda Klein, MD, a dermatologist at Connecticut Dermatology Group in Norwalk, Connecticut.
2. Sensitive skin? Opt for physical blockers. For babies and kids with sensitive skin, look for a sunscreen that blocks the sun by absorbing and scattering ultraviolet light, rather than by chemical means. “Physical blockers don’t penetrate the skin, so there is less risk of irritation,” says Dr. Klein. Not sure which sunscreens are physical blockers? Look for the active ingredient to be titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide.
3. Choose a cream or lotion over a spray. There are several good reasons for making this choice. First off, spray can sometimes lead to uneven coverage (it’s a lot easier to see where a cream ends up). And since spray, by definition, goes far and wide, kids can inhale some of the vapor. Last of all, people tend to use too little spray sunscreen. “You would need seven layers of aerosolized sunscreen to get the proper amount,” warns Klein.
4. Avoid sunscreens with DEET. Sure, fighting bugs and sunburn at the same time sounds appealing, but sunscreen may be less effective when combined with DEET. The two substances also have different application intervals. And DEET may find its way into your child’s mouth if you apply the sunscreen to her hands.
4 tips for using sunscreen right
1. Sun avoidance, not sunscreen, should be your first strategy for a baby younger than 6 months. If you’ll be out with an infant, cover her with clothing as much as you can: a wide-brimmed hat and lightweight but protective outfit are good ways to start. Also, when it’s reasonable, avoiding taking her out between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is strongest. Park her in the shade, too, if it’s possible. (This will also keep her cool, which is important, since babies’ temperature-regulation systems are immature.)
Use sunscreen only on any small patches of her skin that you can’t otherwise cover, such as her face and the backs of her hands. The reason: “Young infants’ skin is less mature than adults’, and babies also have a greater body-surface-to-body-weight ratio than adults. Due to these differences, there is concern that babies are potentially exposed to higher concentrations of the chemicals in sunscreens than adults are,” explains Lily Uihlein, MD, who specializes in dermatology and pediatrics at Loyola University Medical Center in La Grange Park, Illinois.
2. Be extra vigilant about reapplying. Babies’ and kids’ skin is thinner than adults’ and also contains a lower concentration of pigment, so radiation can penetrate their skin more deeply. “Further, one of the major risk factors for development of melanoma is sunburns at a young age,” says Klein. As a rule of thumb, sunscreen should be reapplied every 90 to 120 minutes — more frequently if the person has gotten sweaty or wet.
3. Apply sunscreen an inch inside wherever your child’s clothing ends. Light and reflected light can seep into the gaps in loose sleeves and hems.
4. Send your kids to camp and on other outings with as much protective clothing as you can. It’s easier for them to wear their sun protection (hats, sunglasses, long sleeved shirt and pants) than to remember to keep re-applying sunscreen, or to rely on a counselor to do it for them at the proper intervals. Still, make sure the counselors know that sunscreen needs to be worn and reapplied often.
Related: 10 Skin Cancer Myths and Mistakes