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Mom applying sunscreen to daughter's face

What You Need To Know About Your Kid’s Sunscreen

spoiler: slather it on often

Summer is around the corner (praise be), and that means more time spent outside— but now with more heat and sun. We all know how important it is to protect your skin from those harmful UVA and UVB rays, but what do you really know about your sunscreen?

We spoke to Dr. Nnenna Agim, member of Society for Pediatric Dermatology and associate professor of dermatology at Children’s Health in Dallas, about all things sun protection. 

For sunscreen, what are the typical go-to rules of application? Apply sunscreen in a thin layer completely covering all exposed skin. And apply a broad-spectrum UVA and UVB sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher at least 20–30 minutes before going outside; reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days.

Take care when applying sunscreen around the eyes to prevent irritation or accidental injury. Spray sunscreen should not be used on the face or near an open flame (such as an outdoor grill).

What are things to look for in a sunscreen? The best sunscreen is one that is used often, so make sure to choose a sunscreen that your child will wear. I recommend any product with a minimum SPF 30 that is free of irritants. Look for sunscreens that are fragrance free and contain ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, these tend to be less irritating.

Sunscreens labeled as “broad spectrum” indicate they’ve passed the test for protection against UVA. Also, products intended for babies tend to have the best ingredient profile. But older children and teens may find these less palatable due to their thickness, so they can use any preferred alternative formulation, such as creams, powders, sticks or sprays.

What are some key ingredients to avoid? Any component of sunscreen that will prevent regular use should be avoided. For example, some children can become sensitized to the components of chemical sunscreen, such as avobenzone and oxybenzone.

If chemical sunscreens irritate your child’s skin, choose a physical sunscreen with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide instead. Sunscreens that contain insect repellents may also trigger irritation, so they are best avoided too.

Are there types of sunscreen that are better for little ones? Several manufacturers make sunscreen for babies, and these can be used by children of any age and are ideal because additional ingredients such as fragrances and preservatives—which can be irritating—are omitted.

Sunscreens have been deemed safe for infants older than 6 months of age; however, all infants should be kept out of direct sun and be covered by protective clothing where possible. If exposure to the sun is unavoidable, sunscreen should be applied to all exposed areas such as the face, neck and hands.

Are there alternatives to sunscreen? Sunscreen works when applied properly, up to a point. If you’re outdoors all day or in and out of water, reapplication is necessary every 2–3 hours. Alternatives include sun protection clothing, eyewear and headgear. There are several readily available styles from full coverage diving-style suits to sleeves.

Clothing with sun protection will usually have a UPF factor listed. There are detergents available to buy online that can be used to confer sun protective qualities to regular clothing as well. This protection can typically last up to 10 washes.

What are your sunscreen recommendations? Again, the best sunscreen is the one that is used regularly. I personally look for products with physical blockers and protection of SPF 30 or higher. Conveniently, these products are also waterproof and safe for babies. They don’t have nanoparticles to raise concern for absorption.

Image courtesy of iStock.