Applying sunscreen can be an extra chore and a hassle, especially with young children. Putting sunscreen on a toddler is like an extreme sport for parents: hold down greasy child (gently!) while attempting full coverage of sunscreen everywhere except in the eyes nose and mouth. It’s enough to make you ask if it’s really important. It’s also enough to get you superhero status if you stick with it. After all, it’s cancer prevention we’re talking about. Even superheroes have their tips, tricks and shortcuts. Here are some helpful tips from the Centers for Disease Control as well as some other parenting experts, about how you can successfully wage the war against a summer sunburn.
Learn to love your sunblock from a young age.
It can seem exhausting and daunting to be the sunblock police in your family- constantly nagging your loved ones about wearing a hat, sunglasses, finding shade, and most importantly wearing sunblock. Sunscreen is important for everyone, even adults. Sun damage adds up; the more damaging sun exposure you get, the greater the chances of sun damage and skin cancer. But a lot of sun exposure happens during childhood, so now is a good time to give your child a head start on sun protection.
1. Find the sunscreen that works for your family
- Sticks are good for the face because they don’t drip.
- Cream sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium oxide work well, are not absorbed into the skin and are good for sensitive skin and babies.
- Sunscreen should not be used on babies who are younger than 6 months.
- A spray sunscreen may be the easiest for getting hard-to-reach areas or squirmy kids. Be sure to cover your child's face while spraying and never spray directly onto their face. Also, ask them to hold their breath for five seconds while spraying.
- Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
- Make the sunscreen is "broad spectrum," which means it blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
2. Get kids involved and make it fun.
Teach them to apply their own sunscreen - You are teaching them an important life lesson! You can also turn it into a game: Here are 6 different sunblock application games. It can be tricky to remember to reapply every two hours, but set a timer on your phone or watch. Better yet, have your kids try a color-changing sticker or wristband which will alert you when your sunblock needs to be reapplied. You can even time reapplication with snack time- your kid may be more willing to take a break from the pool and dry off if you are promising a big slice of watermelon. Let your kids experiment with glitter and colored sunblocks for extra creative motivation.
3. Give yourself extra time.
When you plan for the extra time needed to apply sunscreen to yourself and your kids, you’ll be more likely to do it. You won't be anxious or grumpy and everything will go a lot more smoothly. It’s best to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside. Some smart parents with wiggly toddlers suggest applying sunblock while they are strapped into their carseats and can't run away.
Or Cover Up and Seek Shade to Avoid the Burn
- Hats should have wide brims to cover face, head, ears and necks. There are many now that are made of quick-dry fabric so that they can be worn in the water.
- "Rashgards" or special swimshirts with long sleevs are a great way to get out of having to wear sunblock- as long as kids keep them on and still put sunblock on exposed areas like tops of hands, ears, neck, face and legs. My kids started wearing their swimshirts when they were infants and now don't know any different- if they are going swimming outside, their sunshirts need to be on.
- Time outdoor activities on sunny days for the part of the day when the sun's rays are less intense (before 10 AM and after 4PM).
- Many companies now make special sun tents or wind-resistant umbrellas that can create shade wherever you need some.
Don't Forget About your Kids' Eyes
- A lifetime of squinting in bright sunshine can lead to vision loss, cataracts and eye cancers.
- Squinting can also cause aging and wrinkling of skin around the eyes- you don't want your 40-yr-old children blaming you for their wrinkles, do you?
- Kids with blue eyes are at greater risk for ultraviolet damage than those with brown eyes.
Make it a habit
Any public health expert will tell you changing behaviors is tricky. But you can work together as a family this summer to make sun safety your priority. Put a basket of hats, sunglasses, and sunblock right by the front door. Keep extra hats for everyone in your car so that you always have them if you choose an impromptu beach walk or hike on a sunny day. Set an example yourself. Even if you didn't grow up putting sunblock on religiously or wearing hats on sunny days, you can learn too. Pretty soon you'll find your kids are nagging you about you forgetting your hat and sunglasses, or that it is time to reapply! As parents we can teach our children healthy habits to last them a lifetime- sun safety can be one of those lessons you pass on to your kids (and youthful, cancer-free and wrinkle-free skin). Join us in preventing unnecessary skin damage and skin cancer in the next generation!
For More Information:
Make sense of all of the different sunscreen options available with help from the Mayo Clinic.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers free downloadable coloring sheets, comic books and story books for kids about sun safety here.
Here is the Skin Cancer Foundation's guide to choosing sunglasses for your kids.
If you would like more information on this, or any other health related topic, the health educators at the Learning Resource Center are happy to help. They provide trusted & reliable health information and connect people to local resources in the community. Connect with a health educator today! Be well, be well informed.