Once summer hits, kids can’t get enough fun in the sun. But if only they had the same enthusiasm for wearing sunscreen. We get it — sunscreen can be sticky, gloppy and uncomfortable. But everyone, including children, still needs to wear it.
“It’s very simple: Sunscreen prevents skin cancer,” says Sarah Dolder, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Greenwich Point Dermatology in Greenwich, CT. “In fact, multiple severe sunburns will double your child’s risk of developing skin cancer. We need our kids to embrace sunscreen for their skin health, just like we all need to brush our teeth twice a day to prevent cavities. I always tell parents to educate their kids about the dangers of the sun. Growing up in Australia, from a very young age, sun safety measures were drilled into me.”
In fact, protecting children’s skin now will help them well into their adult years. “Data demonstrates that sunburns in younger years have a higher chance of turning into skin cancers later on,” says Kavita Mariwalla, MD, FAAD. “There is often a 20-year gap between the time a lot of sun damage occurs and it shows up on the skin. So if your children are not protecting themselves, in theory they will only be in their 30s and 40s when the repercussions of that start to show.”
Here are five ways to get your kids to stop hating sunscreen.
Good habits begin at a young age. “Make sunscreen a part of their everyday routine, like brushing their teeth,” Dolder says. “Let them see you apply your own sunscreen every morning, wear a hat and sunglasses, and role model these healthy behaviors for your kids. Seek the shade when at the beach or by the pool. Make it second nature for them to think about sun safety every day.”
Get kid-friendly formulas
Keep the adult sunscreen for yourself and opt for ones specifically for babies and children for your little ones. “Kid formulas definitely tend to be less irritating to sensitive skin, so choose these for your children,” Dolder says. “For that matter, I actually have our whole family stick to the kid formulas!” Plus, sunscreen marketed toward children tends to be a higher SPF, Mariwalla says. “I prefer mineral based sunscreens for kids. But I think ease of application is key for parents. I love La Roche-Posay Anthelios Dermo-Kids Gentle Sunscreen Lotion because it goes on so easily and that is half the battle.”
Let kids apply their own sunscreen
“We are so fortunate to have amazing modern sunscreen formulations to choose from,” Dolder says. “Sticks and sprays like Neutrogena Beach Defense Spray allow the kids to apply their own sunscreen, and often make it more fun. In my house, this can be a messy affair, and I always have to ‘fill in the gaps’ on ears and neck, but at least the kids feel autonomy over their sunscreen application and that gives them greater confidence wearing it.” However, with sprays it’s especially easy to make the mistake of not applying enough. Stick to a thicker spray where you can see the application, spray one inch away from the skin, and then use your hands to ensure an even coverage.
Make it fun
“Use colored zinc oxide that they can use on their face, like team colors when playing sports,” suggests Mariwalla. “Zinc oxides tend to be the ones that have the fun colors.” She also likes UV beads and sun-sensing bracelets that change color when sunscreen needs to be reapplied. But, those wristbands aren’t always reliable, so parents should keep track and help their kids reapply every two to three hours.
Don’t let them burn
If you don’t apply sunscreen properly, kids can get a serious sunburn – and be even more against wearing sunscreen. “I suggest SPF 70 or higher,” Dolder says. “This SPF number refers to the length of time you can be in the sun before your skin turns red and burns. For example, a sunscreen with SPF 15 means you can be out in the sun 15 times longer without burning, compared to without sunscreen. Therefore, and SPF of 70 means 70 times longer. When you break it down this way, it makes sense to have the highest level of protection.”
Be sure to reapply every two hours when outside, and again after swimming or sweating. “Even a higher SPF 70 in the morning will wear off throughout the day, so reapplication is crucial,” Dolder says. “Without an adequate amount and diligent reapplication, the sunscreen cannot provide you with the protection that its SPF promises. Don’t miss the ears, back of the neck and tops of the feet. Have your child wear a hat to protect their hair-part line. And remember to apply sunscreen 20 minutes before heading outdoors, to allow time for the UV filter to work its magic.”