The next time you fight the good fight in applying sunscreen to a squirmy toddler, know this: you're not just helping prevent a sunburn today. You're giving them a better chance of lifelong skin health.
That is why it's important to learn how to protect children from the sun. Just one bad sunburn in childhood nearly doubles the chance of getting melanoma years later, says the American Academy of Dermatology. Even if it doesn't lead to skin cancer, moderate sun damage at a young age can still cause hardened skin, freckles, or wrinkles later in life.
And there's plenty of sun to go around. Between playdates, pool parties, bike rides, and other outdoor fun, kids are drawn to sunshine like ducks to water. That repeated exposure carries risks: most of the damage people accumulate happens during childhood.
Still, that doesn't mean you have to keep the kiddos inside. Just stay smart about sun safety for kids and adults alike, setting a good example for the little ones you love.
Get a Good Sunscreen
Children over six months old need sunscreen just like you do (experts recommend that babies under six months avoid direct sunlight when possible). And most of the time, kids and grown-ups can share the same kind—just make sure it's water-resistant and broad-spectrum with SPF 30 or higher.
For extra protection on sensitive areas like the face and ears, opt for a sunscreen that has zinc oxide (an ingredient used in diaper rash creams) or titanium dioxide. These products are less likely to irritate the skin. A spray-on sunscreen may help if your tot is particularly wiggly.
Just watch out for products that contain oxybenzone, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. This ingredient may present some concerns with hormonal properties.
Apply and Reapply Fully
Apply sunscreen from head to toe—and reapply every two hours, or more often if anyone gets sweaty or wet. After every application, wait a good 15 minutes before going outside. This helps the sunscreen absorb into the skin and work its magic.
Rub it in liberally, even if the weather is cool or cloudy. Kids might get even more sun damage on overcast days because they won't feel as hot or seek shade as often. In all, a family of four will probably go through an entire bottle of sunscreen in one outdoor afternoon.
Pack Extra Supplies
Sunscreen isn't the only thing you'll need for outdoor fun. You should also pack these sun safety supplies to keep the whole family protected, no matter what the weather brings:
- Shady shelter: Pack an umbrella, stroller canopy, or other means of shade for extra protection in between play breaks.
- Hats and covered swimwear: Get some wide-brimmed hats with long-sleeved swimwear or other gear with tightly woven fabrics. Some apparel manufacturers sell clothing with ultraviolet (UV) protection.
- Strap-on sunglasses: Who doesn't love a cool toddler in shades? Get a pair with a strap so that it stays put on fidgety kids, and ensure it has UV protection.
- Lips: Grab a good lip balm with at least SPF 30 to protect the lips.
- Extra water: We all need to stay hydrated, so pack those sippy cups and a cooler of enough cold water for the whole family.
Make Sun Safety More Fun
Despite your best intentions, sometimes kids will fight any sun safety precaution you throw at them. If that sounds like your bunch, engage them in healthy habits from a young age—starting by making sun safety more fun:
- Let them pick: Allow children to pick out their own protective gear, such as choosing fun colors or characters for swimwear, hats, and umbrellas.
- Set an alarm: Set a timer on your phone to reapply sunscreen. Kids can even pick the ringer for the alarm so that when they hear the tune, they know it's time for more.
- Gamify it up: Seeing as it's best to wait 15 minutes post-application before going outside, turn the wait into something fun, such as playing a 15-minute playlist of beach songs for a pre-outdoor dance party.
- Sing a song: Create a "sunscreen song" that the whole family sings when putting it on. "Head, shoulders, knees, and toes" is a great choice!
- Protect teddy: If your child has a special doll or toy they bring to outings, help them protect their playmate with extra clothes, sunglasses, and an umbrella.
- Teach sun safety: Find teachable moments in everyday life to learn about sun safety, such as pointing out the use of sunglasses and umbrellas in books or TV shows.
Most importantly, set an example. Remember that kids are constantly soaking in what you do—so apply and reapply sunscreen on yourself, seek shade, and stay safe when in the sun. Be the role model they need, and they'll no doubt grow up remembering good habits.