Summer means fun in the sun for kids — and concerns about their skin safety for parents. And for good reason: “Almost 80 percent of a person’s lifetime sun exposure happens before age 18,” says Michael Shapiro, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Luckily, with some expert advice and the right gear, you can all enjoy that beach vacay or sunny playground worry-free!
1. Get Your SPF Facts Straight
“Sunscreen is extremely effective when it’s used correctly,” says Bruce Robinson, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology. Problem is, it’s often not. How to get your lotion’s full power:
Use an SPF of at least 30. It’s a myth that SPFs are meaningless after 50; higher strengths do offer better protection, just not in proportion to the number on the bottle (SPF 100 is stronger than 50, but not twice as strong).
They should say broad spectrum (meaning the lotion blocks UVA and UVB rays) and water resistant for up to 80 minutes. Look for both physical blockers (like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) and chemical ones (like octionoxate and octisalate). Neutrogena and Coppertone Water Babies make good options.
It’s harder to get a good coat with a spray. If you must use it, “avoid spritzing on your child’s face; spray it into your hands first,” Dr. Robinson advises. Then rub it in.
Slick on two coats at once to avoid missing a spot. “You want to get to just before the point where you can’t rub in any more,” says Dr. Shapiro.
2. Avoid These Sunscreen Spoilers
Avoid using another lotion before applying SPF; it creates a barrier between your skin and the sunscreen.
When your kids wipe it off, the sunscreen goes with it.
Apply sunscreen first; let it dry before squirting on repellent. Avoid combo lotions, since bug spray shouldn’t be slathered on as frequently as SPF—too much can be toxic.
3. Think Beyond the Bottle
“Sun protection involves many things—not just sunscreen,” says Nanette Silverberg, M.D., a pediatric and adolescent dermatologist at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City. Complete your family’s skin-safety strategy with these tips:
Check the time
Staying out of the sun during the midday really will help keep your kids burn-free. “Summer days are long,” says Dr. Silverberg. “You can go to the beach around 3 p.m. and still enjoy plenty of daylight.” If you’re outside during the 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. hours, seek out shade!
Wear a shirt
Regular tees and rash guards not labeled with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor may offer as little protection as SPF 4. “It’s worth investing in a shirt made with fabric in a dense weave that blocks the sun’s rays and doesn’t expand — which regular fabrics do — when it gets wet,” says Dr. Robinson. Choose a rash guard labeled UPF 30 or more.
Protect their peepers
Wearing hats and sunglasses helps prevent sunburn on eyelids, as well as reduces your child’s risk of developing cataracts later in life, says Dr. Silverberg. Specs don’t need to be expensive to work. Just look for ones that block at least 99 percent of both UVA and UVB rays — the darker, the better.
5. Invest in Sun Protective Clothing
These sites have everything you need:
Find durable rubber shades with lenses that provide 100% UVA and UVB protection.
The brand has an array of super cute UPF 50+ swimwear.
One of the several sunsafe brands carried on this site? iPlay.
6. Get Your Town Some Shade
Want better sun protection at your local playground, community pool, or baseball field? Talk to your school board or local nonprofits about applying for the American Academy of Dermatology’s shade-structure grant. The program gives groups up to $8,000 that can be used to install sun blockers. Find out more at Aad.org.