The Ultimate Guide to Sun Protection for Kids: Tips from a Dermatologist

Summer is a season of fun, but for parents, it also brings the challenge of protecting their kids from the sun’s harmful rays. As a dermatologist, I understand the importance of shielding young skin from UV damage. Here’s a short guide to the best sun protection options for kids during the summer months and beyond.

1. Sun-Protective Clothing: The First Line of Defense

UPF Clothing

  • Understanding UPF: Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) clothing is designed to block out UV rays. It works better than regular clothes. Look for clothes with a UPF rating of 50+ for the best protection.
  • Types of Clothing: Long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats are ideal. Rash guards are excellent for swimming. Be careful not to put blankets over strollers without good airflow as the temperature in the stroller can rise dramatically on hot days. Sun protective clothing or staying out of the sun is best for young children, and preferable to sunscreen for kids under 6 months old.  

2. Hats and Sunglasses

Wide-Brimmed Hats

  • Coverage: Hats with a wide brim, the wider the better, provide shade for the face, ears, and back of the neck. Legionnaire-style hats with a flap covering the neck offer even more protection. Here is our favorite: This one is my personal favorite: Double weaved hard shell large shade hat.
  • Material: Choose hats made from UPF materials or tightly woven fabric for maximum protection.

Sunglasses

  • UV Protection: Sunglasses should block 100% of UVA and UVB rays. Look for labels indicating UV 400 or 100% UV protection.

3. Sunscreen

Choosing the Right Sunscreen

  • Zinc: My favorite sunscreen. It’s a broad spectrum (gets UVB and UVA) physical sunblock and it’s not a chemical sunscreen. If you have an allergy to chemical sunscreens, or just prefer not to use chemical sunscreens, zinc-containing sunscreens are the way to go. It’s what I use on myself and our kids. Many brands carry zinc sunscreen, just look for zinc on the label.
  • Broad-Spectrum Protection: Ensure the sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection, which means it guards against both UVA and UVB rays. SPF 30 is the lowest I would go, but the higher the better.
  • Water-Resistant: For kids who are active and love water activities, a water-resistant sunscreen is crucial. It provides protection even when they’re swimming or sweating.
  • Heliocare: An oral supplement (there are other brands as well) that contains polypodium leucotomos, which can be taken before sun exposure and provide extra protection against UV radiation, in addition to sunscreen. There are formulations for children 4 years and older.

Application Tips

  • Generous Application: Use a lot; don’t skimp. Most people apply only 25-50% of the recommended amount.
  • Frequent Reapplication: Reapply every two hours, or more often if your child is swimming or sweating. Remember to cover all exposed areas, including the ears, neck, and tops of the feet.

4. Shade and Timing

Seek Shade

  • Play in the Shade: Encourage kids to play in shaded areas, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Create Your Own Shade: Use umbrellas, tents, or canopies to create shaded play areas.

5. Hydration

Stay Hydrated

  • Importance of Fluids: Ensure kids drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Dehydration can increase the risk of heat-related illnesses.
  • Healthy Choices: Water is the best option. Limit sugary drinks and caffeine.
  • Our kids love these cups for beach / pool days.

6. Lead by Example

Set a Good Example

  • Parental Role: Kids are more likely to follow sun safety practices if they see their parents doing the same. Wear sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses, and seek shade to set a positive example.

Protecting your children from the sun is essential for their long-term skin health. By using a combination of sunscreen, protective clothing, hats, sunglasses, and shade, you can significantly reduce their risk of sunburn and long-term skin damage. Remember, the habits you instill in your children today will help them maintain healthy skin for a lifetime.

Have a safe and sunny summer!

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Dr. Daniel Baird

Board-Certified Dermatologist & Mohs Surgeon

Northwest Dermatology

757 East Holland Ave, Spokane, WA 99218

(509) 444-6367

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