The Sunscreen Online Chatter Is Getting Wild — Here’s To Know about Protecting Your Kids

Contrary to what some influencers may have you believe, sunscreen is safe and very important to use this summer — and really any time you’re outside. Excess exposure to the sun in childhood has been correlated with signs of skin aging and skin cancer later in life; a startling 50 to 80 percent of the skin damage induced by sun exposure occurs in childhood and adolescence. All to say, if you haven’t done so already, make sure to reach over and start lathering up. 

What sunscreen is best for kids? 

The best sunscreen is the one you will apply consistently on yourself and on your child. With that said, there are some boxes you want to make sure to check when picking sunscreen. First, it needs to have both UVA and UVB protection, and you want to go for a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or above. 

Is spray sunscreen OK?

While sprays are convenient and quick to apply, it is very difficult to know exactly how much sunscreen you have put on your child. Because of this, and because children can inhale the spray as they wiggle around, I recommend lotions over sprays for children. If the spray is all you have available, you can spray it onto your hand and then apply it to your child.

Should you use mineral or chemical sunscreen for kids?

As consumers, we also have a choice between mineral and chemical sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens have zinc oxide or titanium dioxide ingredients in them, and children with sensitive skin tend to do well with them. They can leave a white residue on the skin, though that is temporary. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, have been put under recent scrutiny because of the possibility that some of the ingredients used may be absorbed through the skin into the body. While the concern is real, adverse effects have not been demonstrated, and it is essential to discuss the context. Most of us use moisturizers, makeup, and other skin products that contain chemical ingredients. 

When and how much sunscreen should you apply? 

Sunscreen is best applied 15 to 30 minutes before stepping outside and should be reapplied every two hours or immediately after swimming. In terms of amount, the recommended quantity for adults is 1 oz or about enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass, and kids usually need about half of that. The important thing to remember is to cover their whole body, including the top of the ears, the back of the knees, and the toes. Applying sunscreen under bathing suit straps is also a good idea, as these can move.  

What if my child gets a sunburn? 

Hopefully, sunscreen will become routine, and you will be able to take other steps to protect yourself from the sun, like wearing protective clothing and hats and taking breaks during peak sun hours. But sunburns can and do happen. In those cases, you can have your child take a cool bath, apply cold compresses several times per day, give your child extra fluids, apply soothing lotions with aloe vera, and use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with discomfort. It’s always a good idea to reach out to your pediatrician if you’re concerned about a sunburn or other skin issue.

Editor’s note: Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez is a practicing pediatrician at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, a contributing editor to SheKnows, and a mom to an active toddler.

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