Sun protection is essential in childhood. Here’s 3 golden rules, backed by science, for you to use when purchasing, applying/re-applying sunscreen, and protecting children from the sun. Remember, more important than any ingredient or any particular SPF number or brand is the way you use a sunscreen: the best sunscreen is one used early and often.

Sun-protective clothing (those UV shirts, shorts, and hats) is an awesome, affordable, and easy way to protect children from sun without the hassle of sunscreen. Risks for skin cancer increase with sun exposure, family history, and sunburns in particular. Protecting your children from excessive sun exposure and sunburn is an anti-cancer move. That’s power.

3 Rules For Protecting Children From Sun Exposure

  1. Respect the brilliant sun; know your local risk. Enjoy the sun but be smarter. After surviving melanoma, I’ve been forced to change the way my family lives with the sun to decrease our risks. I’ve learned a ton about letting the UV index guide me. UV index is a measure of the radiation you are exposed to when outside. Radiation from the sun increases cancer risk, increases skin aging (wrinkles!), while it decreases eye and immune health. UV index varies with the time of year, the type of weather, the latitude, and the time of day. Check out your UV index today (by zipcode) and download the free app (search “UV index” in your smartphone). Make a habit to check the UV index every day to get a sense of your family’s exposure–I guarantee it will surprise you. Even on cloudy days, the UV index midday can rise to levels that will encourage you to protect your skin. Don’t be scared of the sun, just be smarter.
  2. Choose SPF 30 or more that covers both UVA and UVB rays. It’s misleading for brands to sell SPF labeled 70 or 100. The FDA is now more aggressively regulating how sunscreen is packaged as not to confuse or mislead. For your children and yourself, choose a sunscreen with SPF over 30. But save your money, you don’t get anything better with anything over SPF 50. Read about sunscreen ratings–rising cost doesn’t improve efficiency. UVA radiation is constant throughout the year, regardless of season or heat index. UVB radiation varies with the season (unlike UVA)–it’s most intense in the summer. An SPF over 30 protects against about 97% of the UVB light. You can get 60-90 SPF but most experts agree you aren’t getting much more bang for your buck. Remember no sunscreen is truly “waterproof,” “sweatproof,” or “playproof.” The American Academy of Dermatology also has tips.
  3. Avoid tanning beds, use shade and physical barriers. UV sun-protective clothing (UV shirts, long shorts, and hats) are are an easy affordable way to protect children from sun damage. Don’t underestimate this important strategy. I never have to apply sunscreen to my boys’ chests, backs, or shoulders as they always wear UV protective shirts. Use shade umbrellas and plan activities outside of peak sun times (10am until 4pm). Explain to teens who want to use a tanning bed the risks for increases in premature aging (wrinkles, wrinkles, wrinkles) and skin cancer risk. Explain that tanning beds have 10-15 times the radiation than the natural sun. Spray tans are an awesome alternative to a tanning bed and often not too far off on price.