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Sunscreen won’t work if it stays in the bottle

Updated 19 June 2020
Published 30 June 2017

Excessive sun exposure is a major well-established health risk, and there are a lot of resources for learning about how to be safe in the sun. Talk to your child’s primary medical provider about sun protection decisions and reports from sources such as the EWG, AAP, FDA and Consumer Reports.

As children approach the teen years, they become more independent, and need to think for themselves about sun safety when you’re not around. Start the conversations early so you can prepare them to make healthy choices on their own. Here are some ways to start a conversation:

  • Talk about scheduling outdoor activities to avoid the peak sun hours, and brainstorm indoor activities to do in the middle of the day.
  • Ask your child to check the UV index using a weather app—let them see that the UV index can be high on cold or cloudy days.
  • Try on a rash guard swim shirt, “shorty” wetsuit, or hat to reduce the amount of exposed skin.
  • Pack a beach umbrella or tent to bring some shade along with you.
  • Take your child shopping for sunglasses and goggles. Show them how to check for UV protection (hint: not all dark-tinted lenses protect against UV rays, and some light-tinted lenses have UV protection).
  • If your child wears glasses, ask your optometrist about UV protection—many lenses include UV protection.

Sunscreen Tips:

  1. SPF is a measure of protection only from UVB rays; “broad spectrum” sunscreen protects against both UVB and UVA rays.
  2. Don’t misunderstand SPF ratings—SPF 50 and 100 block only about 1% and 2% more UVB rays than SPF 30, respectively. The CDC, FDA and AAP recommend using at least SPF 15; the AAD recommends using at least SPF 30 (accessed 5 June 2019).
  3. Choose a water-resistant product if you’ll be in the water.
  4. Follow recommendations about applying the sunscreen before going out into the sun.
  5. A common mistake is applying too little—make sure you apply the correct amount.
  6. Applying adequately around the edges of a swimsuit can be challenging—consider applying before putting the swimsuit on.
  7. Don’t miss any exposed skin including lips, nose, toes, tops of feet and hands, underarms, neck and hairline, tops and backs of ears, and areas near the eyes.
  8. Reapply as recommended—using a high SPF does not mean that you can reapply less often.
  9. Dispose of old expired bottles.
  10. Products are sometimes divided into two categories: 1) chemical sunscreens that are absorbed into the skin and absorb UV rays and 2) mineral sunscreens that rest on top of the skin and reflect UV rays. Mineral sunscreens (containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) are harder to find in stores than chemical sunscreens, which are widely available; New Seasons and Whole Foods usually carry mineral sunscreens by Badger Balm or California Baby.
  11. Children and teens who dislike the white tint left on the skin by many mineral sunscreens might prefer a “clear” or “tinted” mineral sunscreen.