How To Apply Sunscreen on Your Kids

Sun Safety Basics

A parent applies sunscreen on her child's face at the beach to help protect her from the sun.
A parent applies sunscreen on her child's face at the beach to help protect her from the sun. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Most parents know that it is important to use sunscreen, but kids still end up very tanned or getting sunburned at least once or twice a year.

Why?

It usually isn't because parents are forgetting to use sunscreen, but instead, they often aren't using it correctly. This how to on using sunscreen can help you avoid sunburn and that "healthy tan," which, of course, isn't very healthy at all.

Difficulty: Easy

Time Required: a few minutes to apply sunscreen all over your child's body

Here's How to Apply Sunscreen Properly

How often do you simply see parents spraying their kids with sunscreen on the beach? Even when it isn't too windy, you can often see folks nearby getting sprayed too. They likely aren't being a good example of how to properly apply sunscreen. Instead, you should:

  1. Get ready to apply sunscreen on your kids about 30 minutes before your they going to be outside. If you wait until your they are already outside, then you will leave them unprotected -- as it takes time for sunscreen to work. If you apply sunscreen before they outside, you can also do it before they gets dressed, being sure to get all areas of their body covered that might be exposed to the sun.
  2. Be prepared to apply a generous layer of sunscreen all over your child's body. In general, parents often don't apply enough sunscreen on their children.
  1. Start with one body part, such as an arm, and apply a thick layer of sunscreen all over, rubbing it in thoroughly (or spraying it on) before moving on to another area.
  2. Go from area to area, being sure to include the back of your child's neck, his shoulders, ears, feet and the back of his arms and legs. It is usually a good idea to apply sunscreen on your child's face last, since kids often don't like that part. Use the same system each time you put sunscreen on your child, that way you will be unlikely to make a mistake and miss an area of your child's body.
  1. Re-apply sunscreen at least every two hours, and especially after your child has been swimming or sweating a lot.

More Tips on Applying Sunscreen

These other sunscreen tips can keep your kids sunburn free too.

  1. Choose a sunscreen that provides broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection, with an SPF of at least 15 to 30, and that is water resistant, hypoallergenic and fragrance-free.
  2. Don't forget to apply sunscreen every day that your child is going outside, even when it is cloudy, since you can get a sunburn even when it isn't very sunny.
  3. As a general rule, a handful of sunscreen should be the right amount to cover your child's body -- larger kids have larger hands, so that helps you adjust the amount for different-size kids.
  4. Choose a form of sunscreen that you and your child are most likely to use, whether that means it is a gel, lotion, spray, continuous spray, etc.
  5. Even when using sunscreen or sunblock, try to avoid or limit sun exposure when the sun is at its strongest, from about 10 a.m. to 4p.m.
  1. Don't forget to protect your child's lips (SPF 15 lip balm), eyes (sunglasses) and head (hat).

Avoiding Common Sunscreen Mistakes

But what if your kids still get dark or sunburned?

They aren't immune to sunscreen. It is more likely that you are making one of these common sunscreen mistakes, such as that you:

  • are not using sunscreen every time your child goes outside
  • are not using enough sunscreen (many parents only use about 1/4 of the sunscreen that they should be using)
  • are not using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher
  • are not applying sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outside
  • are not reapplying sunscreen at least every 2 hours, or sooner if your child is swimming or sweating
  • are using sunscreen that has expired or has been repeatedly exposed to high temperatures
  • are applying the sunscreen over an insect repellent, which can lower the SPF of the sunscreen
  • are letting your kids spend too much time in the sun when it is at its strongest, from about 10am to 4pm

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