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Spending long summer days outside calls for careful planning and protection – especially when it comes to protecting young skin. Here's how to keep summer playtime safe and fun for your kids.
Plus: Find out how to protect your little ones against other summer dangers, from dehydration and dog bites to water, bugs, lawn mowers, and the downside of bike riding.
Sun protection basics
Sunscreen, protective clothing, and shelter are the best defenses against excessive sun exposure, whether you and the kids are bound for the beach or simply headed for the front lawn. The sun is strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so it's best to plan indoor activities for that time or seek a shady area.
Infants and toddlers have sensitive skin that burns very quickly. "It takes just a few minutes," says pediatrician Tanya Remer Altmann, "and during those young years they're more susceptible to permanent damage that can cause skin cancer later in life."
To make sun protection fun for her own son, Altmann makes it a game: "My son has a 'zookeeper hat' that we bought for the zoo but that now he always wears in the sun. He also has cool 'robot glasses' for our daily walks."
Keep babies younger than 6 months out of the sun altogether. Long-sleeved clothing, pants, wide-brimmed hats, and a huge sunshade on the stroller will help.
If you're out and about with your baby and there's no way to avoid sun exposure, it's okay to put sunscreen on the bits of skin that are exposed. Select a brand without dyes or perfumes and test a dab of it on your baby's skin to make sure it doesn't cause a rash.
Choose a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Check the label for the term "broad spectrum," which promises protection against both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are more likely to cause sunburn, but UVA rays cause more lasting damage.
UVA rays pass deeper into the skin and cause aging and wrinkling. Look for the UVA "star" rating on the container. One star is the lowest level of protection from UVA rays, while four stars is the highest.
How to apply sunscreen
Put sunscreen on children 15 to 30 minutes before heading outdoors and reapply it every two hours. If they're swimming, reapply it as soon as they get out of the water, after towel-drying – even if it's been less than two hours since you applied it and even if the sunscreen is labeled "waterproof."
Cover all exposed areas of your kids' skin, including the tips of the ears, the back of the neck, and the tops of the feet. To keep lotion from running into your child's eyes on hot sweaty days, pediatrician Altmann suggests using a stick sunscreen or zinc oxide ointment.
Eyes also need protection from UV rays to reduce the risk of cataracts and other eye problems later in life. Try wraparound sunglasses for the most complete protection, and choose a pair that blocks 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays.
Find out more
- Sun safety for baby and kids
- Do you need to buy a new bottle of sunscreen every summer?
- What kind of sunscreen is best for babies?
- What to do if sunburn strikes your baby or child