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Children's Health

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Summer Sun Protection for Kids

Brush up on your knowledge of sunscreen and sun protection for infants through middle school-aged kids.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD

Lazy days at the pool or beach are warm weather rituals for many families. But if you're tempted to let your child play outdoors for even a few minutes without the proper sun protection, you’re taking an unhealthy risk.

"It only takes one severe sunburn to potentially double your child's chances of getting melanoma later in life," says Andrea Cambio, MD, FAAD, a board-certified pediatric dermatologist. "We really need to buckle down and protect our young."

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Slather on the Sunscreen – No Exceptions

Remember how much you marveled at your baby's smooth skin? Don't let the sun destroy that beautiful canvas. Ultraviolet sunlight damages the skin and can lead to wrinkles and cancers later on. There is no such thing as a healthy tan; a tan is a sign of sun damage.

Always put sunscreen on your child before going outside. Make a fun game out of it. Teach your child to spell BEENS to help you remember to cover often-forgotten spots: Back of knees, Ears, Eye area, Neck, and Scalp.

Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. Then reapply every 2 hours, or sooner if your child has been swimming. Water-resistant sunscreen wears off -- check the label to see how soon you'll need to reapply.

If your child attends school or daycare, make sure teachers are told to apply sunscreen before any outdoor activities.

Choose a Child-Friendly Sunscreen

Can't decide which sunscreen is best for your child? Cambio and pediatrician Jerome A. Paulson, MD, FAAP, medical director for national and global affairs at the Child Health Advocacy Institute of Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., shared some child-friendly recommendations.

Their No. 1 tip: Choose a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide because the compounds are less irritating than others and do not get absorbed into the skin. "These ingredients are probably the safest ones out there right now," Paulson says.

There is some concern that other sunscreen ingredients, particularly oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A), may cause harm. However, both chemicals are FDA approved for use in sunscreens.

Other tips:

  • Opt for a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
  • Make sure it's labeled "broad spectrum," which means it blocks both UVA and UVB sunlight.
  • Let your child choose a colored or scented sunscreen. Nix this idea if your child has sensitive skin or an allergic skin disorder, such as eczema.
  • Sunscreen sticks are best for the face because they are less likely to drip.
  • Cambio likes spray-on sunscreens for kids because they are easy to apply. Cover your child's face while spraying, or have him make a funny face or hold his breath for five seconds.
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