We all know that sunscreen is essential. It protects our skin from uncomfortable sunburns as well as serious diseases such as sunstroke and skin cancer. But, choosing one can be less straightforward when it comes to protecting our kids. We want the safest products that are still going to be effective. Here we offer advice to help you find the safest products and decide when to use alternatives.
It’s recommended to use sunscreen on children who are 6 months and older. Before this age the skin is too vulnerable, so take extra precautions and don’t use sunscreen. Instead, avoid exposing your children to the sun altogether. You can do this by covering your child up with protective clothing and keeping them in the shade, or better, indoors.
To block out the sun, sun creams contain either mineral or chemical barriers. Scientists believe that the nanoparticles in mineral sunscreen are only harmful if they penetrate the skin. Yet, proof that this is the case is still inconclusive, but many manufacturers are beginning to ban products containing these particles.
Chemical barriers such as zinc oxide or titanium oxide, can be harmful to the body in high doses. That said, it would take 30 years of daily application to get to a harmful level. So the benefits of using chemical sunscreens outweigh the risks. But, you can always top up sun protection with extra safety measures and use less sun block.
Don’t entirely rely on ‘waterproof’ products. These sunscreens offer some protection if your little ones splash around in water or get a few drops on their skin. But, submerging themselves in water, i.e swimming, will wash their sunblock off them. Especially if they’re playing in the water for a long period of time.
Finally, use spray sunscreens with caution. There is some uncertainty around the effects of inhaling sunscreen, and inadequate application. Only use spray bottles outdoors in a well ventilated area and never spray it directly onto the face. Some researchers believe that spray bottles fail to give full coverage, so it’s a good idea to apply several coats and rub the cream in well.
How and When to Apply Sunscreen for Kids
With tons of summer activities for your kids available, this means lots of sun time. Here are the general guidelines for sunscreen application for kids: Apply around two tablespoons worth of sunscreen to your children’s skin, 30-45 minutes before leaving the house. The same amount should be reapplied every two hours, unless they go swimming or do a lot of physical activity. In which case, they should reapply sunscreen as soon as they’ve dried off. Applying sunscreen with this frequency is recommended for children and adults alike.
Besides a good cream, you can supplement your sun care with sun-protective clothing. It’s not necessary to apply sunscreen under sun-protective gear. This type of clothing contains UPF protection and some brands claim it cools you down. If you’re thinking about choosing sun-protective clothing for your kids, test some products from your chosen brand first. Try wearing them yourself, and if they do protect you, you will feel confident buying their items for your kids too.
Of course, if your kids will be on the beach (check out our beach games for kids guide), the sun may feel a bit stronger which is why it is important to re-apply sunscreen on your kids.
Which SPF Should I Choose for Kids?
Whilst SPF 100 is proven to block more UV rays than SPF 30, it’s reported to only have a slight edge. Research shows that SPF 30 is able to block out 98% of UV Rays, where SPF 100 blocks 99%. But, SPF 30 is thought to be more beneficial because of the ingredients and how we use it.
People often assume that they can apply high SPFs less often because they block out more sun. This is not the case though. All sunscreens last around the same amount of time; two hours. So we need to reapply all sunscreens after two hours, or sooner when exposed to water.
The real difference between higher and lower SPFs is their ingredients. The chemicals that filter out the sun’s rays are stronger in high SPF products and some experts believe they are harmful to our skin and health. Research suggests that these chemicals can contribute to skin damage, skin irritation and even hormone imbalance. Given these risks, and the similarity in how much protection these products offer, it is safer to opt for SPF 30 – 50.
What is the Best Sunscreen for Kids?
Armed with all this information, how can we choose the best sunscreen for our kids? There isn’t one brand that stands out above all, but make sure that your sunscreen meets the following criteria:
- Cream instead of spray. Inhaling sprays can be harmful, so choose cream for your kids. Cream is thicker and can be less convenient but it’s better to err on the side of caution.
- SPF 30 – 50. Anything under SPF 30 offers too little protection, especially when you’re going to be outdoors for a long time. Experts agree that the SPF rating is equal to the amount of time it would take to burn. So using SPF 15 would take 15 times longer to burn than without it. This is why at least SPF 30 is best for outdoor activity. Choose SPF 40 and higher for the face.
- Waterproof or water resistant. Even though you shouldn’t take this label as gospel, it still gives the product a little extra protection. Getting splashed with water won’t completely wash sunscreen off, but swimming and sweating a lot will. If your kids are not planning to be around any water, there’s no need to opt for a waterproof product.
- Broad-Spectrum protection. Look for sunscreens that offer UVA and UVB blocking properties.No unnecessary additions to your sunscreen. You can buy sunscreen which also repels insects. DEET, the insect-repelling ingredient, can be too strong for younger children.Contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are physical blockers of UV rays and will begin to block the sun as soon as they’re applied to the skin. They’re also determined to be largely safe in the quantities that we use over our lifetime.
As always, whichever sunscreen you choose, have your little ones apply it 30 – 45 minutes before leaving the house. Make sure they reapply every two hours and right after swimming or sweating. If you’re sending your child out to play without you, make sure that they have a sunscreen that’s easy to apply.