One of the more trying tasks as a parent is applying sunscreen to a wiggly, impatient kid who would rather be cannonballing into the pool than getting lathered up. While sunscreen is necessary protection against sunburns (and future skin cancer), there are a few things you can do to make the process more bearable. Dermatologist Candace Glenn M.D. of Mid Atlantic Dermatology & Plastic Surgery in Winter Park shared her best sun safety tips along with the latest and greatest kid-friendly formulas.
Know Your Sunblock Basics
There are two main types of sunblock: physical and chemical. Physical (also known as mineral) sunscreens have zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients and protect against both UVA and UVB rays. They create a physical barrier between the skin and the sun, so they protect immediately upon application. One major downside? Physical formulas are typically goopier and harder to rub in. On the other hand, chemical sunscreens (ones made with compounds like oxybenzone or avobenzone) tend to be lighter weight. They penetrate the skin and are designed to absorb the sun’s rays, like a sponge. Unlike physical sunscreens, you have to wait 20 to 30 minutes before you’re fully protected.
Between the two, Dr. Glenn encourages parents to opt for a physical formulation because they’re superior in terms of long-lasting protection and mesh well with sensitive skin. “In general, you should look for all-mineral sunblocks that are SPF 30+ with at least 5% zinc oxide,” she says. “Keep in mind that SPF higher than 30 has very little increased efficacy and often just feels thicker and costs more. The ideal sunblocks are also free of fragrances, parabens, sulfates, dyes and formaldehyde.”
Set an Example
As you know, kids copy whatever you do, so make sure to put on sunblock too. “Act like you need their help to apply it,” says Dr. Glenn. “You can make it more fun by singing songs with them and creating cool names for sunscreen, like sun makeup or sun armor.” It’s also important to make it a habit and treat sunscreen application as a part of your going outside routine — so if you’re putting on shoes, you’re putting on sunscreen too. As a reminder, keep your go-to bottle by the door so you don’t forget it. If you’re playing outside, sunscreen should be replied every 2 hours (or more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating a lot). One trick to make application more enjoyable is to stash sunscreen in a cooler so when it’s time to reapply, it’ll feel refreshing on skin.
Sun protective clothing has come a long way since the days of wearing a baggy t-shirt over a swimsuit. Now it’s easier than ever to stay safe without compromising on style. “There are so many great UPF long-sleeve rash guards, hats and swimwear now,” explains Dr. Glenn. “Often times, it is a bit faster and easier to throw on protective clothing so sunblock only needs to be applied to the legs and face.” Some of her favorite brands include Coolibar, Cabana Life, Primary, Mott50 and Rufflebutts. Another foolproof way to prevent burns: Hang out in the shade or under an umbrella as often as possible.
Find Your Fave Formula
“Always get the sunscreen that you will use — it doesn’t do any good sitting in your bag and not on skin,” says Dr. Glenn. That’s why it’s worth the trial and error of finding a formula that works for your family’s lifestyle. She cautions against aerosol formulas: They can be tricky to distribute evenly onto skin, and people often don’t apply enough for them to be fully effective. A good rule of thumb is that kids require about a dime-size amount on their face and a nickel-size amount for each of their extremities, their chest and back.
Here are Dr. Glenn’s top three sunscreen picks:
For Arms and Body:
Babyganics SPF 50+ Sunscreen Stick
“I love this for young complexions. In addition to being 100% mineral, toxin- and fragrance-free, and organic, it has a natural seed oil blend in it. This creates a very smooth, gentle feel upon application. Additionally, the oil blend prevents it from drying out after opening like many other mineral sticks tend to do.”
Aveeno Positively Mineral Sensitive Skin Sunscreen
Broad Spectrum SPF 50
“Beyond its mineral and broad-spectrum formulation, it is made with oat extract so is also nourishing for skin. Skin tends to become dry with repeated exposure to water, especially water containing chlorine, so this helps to combat that to keep skin protected and hydrated.”
Dr. Candace Glenn
Board Certified Dermatologist, MD, FAAD
Mid Florida Dermatology & Plastic Surgery