9 sunscreen facts to consider before you slather up your kids this summer

Jun 7, 2016 at 12:00 a.m. ET
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As parents, we all know it's important to make sure our kids are wearing sunscreen before they spend time in the sun. But there's a lot more to this product than just slathering it on. It does matter what kind you buy — and how you use it. Make sure you brush up on these sunscreen facts before you send your kids outside to play this summer.

1. The brand does matter

When you hit the sunscreen aisle, you may find yourself overwhelmed with choices. Unfortunately all types of sunscreen are not created equally. Of the over 200 available sunscreens, only 34 lotions scored the highest possible rating on the Environmental Working Group's top sunscreens for kids. Check out the list, and consider using one of its recommended products for the best protection.

2. The SPF shouldn't be too low

The FDA's minimum recommendation for SPF is only 15, but why stick with the minimum when you're talking about your children's health? The American Academy of Dermatology actually recommends you stick with SPFs of at least 30, so choose a product with at least that much protection.

More: Don't get burned! The best (and worst) sunscreens for kids

3. But it shouldn't be too high either

It seems that with SPFs, the higher the number, the better, right? That's actually not true. Studies have shown that sunscreens with SPF higher than 50 actually offer marginally better protection at much greater risks to your health. The higher concentration of chemicals in these products can cause skin irritation, tissue damage, allergic reactions and possible hormone disruption. Just stick with SPFs between 30 and 50.

4. Everyone needs it

It doesn't matter if your kids have dark skin or if they don't burn easily. Everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer, so everyone should wear sunscreen. Period.

5. Broad spectrum is the best

When choosing your sunscreen, always opt for the products labeled as "broad spectrum." They protect from both UVA and UVB rays, meaning they help keep you safe from both sunburn and skin cancer.

More: 25 sunscreens that actually work

6. You need more than you think

Apply a generous amount of sunscreen to every single area of your child's skin that will see the sun, including face, ears and hands. You'll probably use about a shot glass worth of lotion to adequately cover your kiddo, and studies have shown that most people use way less than that.

7. Don't forget the lip balm

Lips get skin cancer too. Find a lip balm with SPF, and apply that to your kids' lips before they head outside too.

8. Sprays may not be the best choice

We get it. Sprays are so much easier to apply than lotions are, especially on kids who are ready to jet out the door. But they may not be the safest choice. FDA regulations don't currently apply to spray sunscreens, so you don't really know what you're getting. Plus, the nature of these products make it difficult to ensure you're getting enough.

More: 80 percent of sunscreens aren't doing what they're supposed to do

9. Babies shouldn't use it

Babies have super-sensitive skin that can easily burn, but that doesn't mean you should reach for the nearest bottle of sunscreen before taking your little one outdoors. Babies under 6 months old are more susceptible to chemicals in sunscreens, often leading to adverse reactions. It's best to keep babies in a shaded place or covered well with clothing and hats.

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