Sunscreen Primer: Get the Facts Before You Hit the Beach


Good sun protection habits will last your kids a lifetime and may just–pun intended–save their skin.

kids and sunscreen, sun protection, sun lotion for kids

Photo courtesy of Bryan via Flickr

We already know that the sun’s rays cause skin cancer, and that the best amount of sun exposure for our skin, especially when we’re young, is zero. Any dermatologist will tell you there’s no such thing as a healthy tan, and that the overwhelming percentage of sun damage that has been inflicted on our skin happened during the childhood and teenage years. So it’s vital to keep young skin covered.

Store shelves offer an overwhelming array of sunscreen products, and we’re barraged with conflicting warnings and complicated numbers. Some basic sunscreen facts can target the most important items and help you keep everyone protected so you can focus on having fun in the sun.

How much sun is too much?

The truth is (again, the dermatologists’ credo), any exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation is putting unprotected skin at risk for skin cancer. This includes all races and dark-skinned people who “never burn,” though light-skinned folks–especially blondes and redheads–are more at risk. Childhood sun exposure increases the risk of developing moles, which can become cancerous melanomas. Unlike more surface-based basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, melanomas develop deeper in the skin and are more life-threatening. Studies have shown that routine use of sunscreen by school-age children significantly reduces the chance of developing moles.

How do I protect myself and my kids?

  • Avoid peak sun times (10AM to 4PM). If you must be in the sun at midday, be extra diligent about about covering up and slathering on sunscreen liberally and often.
  • Wear protective clothing whenever possible, and cover up with a hat. Clothes provide protection, but thin t-shirts aren’t enough. Slather on the sunscreen, then put on the t-shirt.
  • Generously apply one to two ounces (the proverbial “shot glass”) of sunscreen to cover all exposed skin 15 minutes before going outside.
  • Sunscreen should have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 (30 is recommended) and provide broad-spectrum protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.
  • Reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating. Let skin dry before going outdoors.
  • Make sure to hit exposed spots like tops of ears, scalp and feet that you might be neglected.
  • You can apply sunscreen to children as young as age 6 months. Keep younger children in the shade as much as possible.
  • Don’t burn. All of the above should protect skin from sunburn, which should be avoided at all costs.

 Next: Which sunscreens are the most effective and safe?

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Author:Michelle Cohen

Michelle Cohen, co-founder, content director and editor of Living Green with Baby is a New York-based writer and digital media producer who has produced websites for lifestyle brands like Seventeen, Country Living, Harper’s Bazaar and iVillage. She writes about culture, media, New York City neighborhoods, real estate, style, design and technology among other topics.

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