Protecting Your Kids from the Sun: Essential Tips for Sunscreen Use and Sun Protection - Greater Austin Moms

As the temperatures in Austin continue to rise with no relief in sight, I thought I’d call on a friend to help us with keeping our family protected from the sun. I’d love to introduce to you all, Chelsey, from Pure Derm, a wonderful dermatologist here in Southwest Austin to share with us all about sunscreen and sun protection with your family! Chelsey Straight, MD, FAAD is a board certified dermatologist and micrographic dermatologic surgeon specializing in providing skin care to all ages. Welcome Chelsey!

As parents, ensuring the well-being of our children is always a top priority. When it comes to sun protection, taking proactive measures is crucial to safeguard their delicate skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. In this blog post, we will explore various strategies to shield your kids from the sun, with an emphasis on the use of physical sunscreens, recommended application amounts and frequency, the importance of sun protective clothing, and additional tips to keep your little ones safe under the sun.

Understanding Physical Sunscreens and Their Safety Benefits:

Physical sunscreens, often referred to as mineral sunscreens, are an excellent choice for children due to their safety profile*. Unlike chemical sunscreens, which absorb UV rays, physical sunscreens create a physical barrier that reflects and scatters the sun’s rays. They typically contain active ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, offering broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Physical sunscreens are generally considered safe as they do not penetrate the skin and have minimal risk of causing skin irritation or allergic reactions. 

*Note: It is recommended to avoid using sunscreen on infants for the first 6 months of life. 

Recommended Application Amount and Frequency:

To maximize sun protection, it’s important to apply an adequate amount of sunscreen to your child’s exposed skin. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using about one ounce (a palmful) of sunscreen for each application. Be sure to cover all exposed areas thoroughly, paying attention to often overlooked areas like the ears, back of the neck, and tops of the feet.

Additionally, sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours, or more frequently if your child is sweating heavily or swimming. Regardless of the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) level, sunscreen efficacy diminishes over time, making regular reapplication essential for continued protection. 

Harnessing the Power of Sun Protective Clothing:

While sunscreen is a valuable tool, incorporating sun protective clothing is an ideal defense against harmful UV rays. The biggest benefit of clothing is that no reapplication is necessary for sustained protection (think less time spent wrangling kids to reapply during fun activities – that’s a win for everyone!). Not all clothing protects equally, though. Look for clothing with Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) labeling, which identifies how much UV radiation penetrates a fabric and is able to reach skin. Clothing with UPF 50+ is considered excellent protection, as such clothing blocks 98% UV rays (including both UVA and UVB); such options can be great choices for swimwear for kids, for example. For clothing without UPF labeling, encourage your children to wear dark/bright colors (which absorb UV rays better than lighter shades), densely/tightly woven clothing (e.g.: denim, as such materials allow less penetration of UV rays), which is looser-fitting (stretched/tight clothing can allow more UV rays to pass through) and covers as much skin as possible. A wide-brimmed hat provides excellent protection for the face, neck, and ears. Don’t forget about sunglasses with UV protection to shield their eyes from potentially damaging rays.

While it is recommended to avoid sunscreen in infants for the first 6 months, sun protective clothing is a safe option to protect a baby’s sensitive skin. Clothing which protects a baby’s arms and legs is recommended as well as wide brimmed hats and sunglasses. Stroller sun shades can help to reduce a baby’s sun exposure, too. 

Tracking the UV Index and Avoiding Peak Hours:

Monitoring the UV index is a useful practice for planning outdoor activities. The UV index measures the intensity of UV radiation and helps you gauge the level of sun protection required. Aim to engage in outdoor activities when the UV index is lower, typically in the early morning or late afternoon. Avoiding peak sun hours, usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest, can significantly reduce UV exposure.

Additional Tips for Protecting Your Kids from the Sun:

  • Look for sunscreen labeling that includes the words “broad spectrum” and “water resistant”
  • Seek shade whenever possible, especially during peak hours.
  • Encourage your children to wear sunglasses with proper UV protection to shield their eyes.
  • Teach them about the importance of staying hydrated by drinking water regularly, particularly on hot and sunny days.
  • Apply lip balm with SPF to protect their lips from sunburn.
  • Educate your kids about the dangers of indoor tanning and the cumulative effects of sun exposure.
  • Set an example by consistently practicing sun-safe behaviors yourself.
  • Make sun protection behaviors a habit/part of the daily routine, just like brushing teeth. Consistency with kids is often key!

Protecting your children from the sun’s harmful rays is a vital aspect of responsible parenting. By using physical sunscreens, applying the recommended amount and reapplying regularly, employing sun protective clothing, tracking the UV index, and avoiding peak hours, you can significantly reduce their risk of sunburn and long-term skin damage. Remember, instilling sun-safe habits in your children from an early age sets them on the path to a lifetime of sun protection and healthy skin.


Stay sun-smart, stay safe!

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