How to protect children from the sun

Applying sunscreen to wiggly young children can be a challenge, but sun protection is especially critical for young skin. Babies and young children are especially sensitive to the sun. There are several lines of evidence indicating that burns during youth significantly contribute to melanoma risk. For instance, just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles an individual’s risk of developing melanoma later in life.

Good sunscreen habits start early

Good sun protection habits beginning in childhood can prevent the majority of skin cancers. Applying sunscreen is only half the battle; sun protection should include multiple safety tactics. Teach your children healthy habits, and lead by example.

  • Babies under 6 months should never be in the sun. Babies are especially susceptible to damaging rays, as their skin possesses little melanin, the pigment that provides some sun protection.
  • Play in the shade. Reinforce fun beyond the sun: read a book, have a picnic or play a game in the shade, especially between the hours of 10am – 4pm on a sunny day.
  • Make sure toddlers are covered. Opt for long-sleeved, cotton clothing or hats that will remain cool and comfortable, yet protective. Clothing, hats and swimming gear with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) listing of 30 or higher offer extra security.
  • Try spray-on sunscreen. Water-resistant, spray-on sunscreens are a handy option for kids who won’t sit still. Look for broad-spectrum sunscreens with a Sun Protective Factor (SPF) 30 or higher.  Also look for a sun block containing titanium and zinc oxide, substances that are less aggravating to young skin.
  • Teach children to apply sunscreen before hitting the beach or playground. Sun block should be applied 15-30 minutes before going outside, reapplied every two hours, and always after swimming or sweating.
  • Make sunglasses fun and functional. Kids love to sport those Foster Grants. Help your child pick a pair he or she will love to show off and teach them to protect their eyes.

Do you have tips for keeping your little ones sun-safe this summer? Share them below.

Find additional resources at Dana-Farber’s Melanoma Treatment Program.

1 thought on “How to protect children from the sun”

  1. I see that you recommend spray sunscreens for young children who “won’t sit still”. The FDA is now investigating spray sunscreens with nonoparticles (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) because they may be inhaled and nanoparticles lodged in lung tissue. We advise parents to have the children hold their breath during application of a spray-on sunscreen. This recent news article covered it nicely.

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