Sun Safety for Kids of All Ages

You can never take too many sun protection measures with kids. Even though sunburns and tan lines fade, sun exposure goes on kids’ permanent health records. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that 80% of lifetime sun exposure occurs before age 18.

Exposure to UV rays from the sun increases the risk for skin cancer, eye cancer, cataracts and more. That’s why it’s important to take protection seriously. Read on for more sun safety tips.

mom putting sunscreen on infant

Everyone should protect their skin and eyes from sun exposure.

According to the official statement on UV exposure from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight. If you’re not able to keep them out of direct sunlight, try using an umbrella or the overhang on a stroller for shade. You can also dress them in protective clothing. If you can’t find shade for an infant, you can put sunscreen on small areas of their body, such as their face and hands.
  • Everyone is at risk for UV-related health problems, regardless of skin color. While people with light skin, lots of freckles and light eyes are at a generally higher risk for skin cancer, UV exposure can have negative health impacts on everyone.
  • Teens can be diagnosed with melanoma:
    • Melanoma makes up less than 5% of skin cancer cases but causes the most skin cancer deaths.
    • This type of cancer is the second most common cancer in women in their 20s and the third most common cancer in men in their 20s.
  • Sunbathers are not the only ones at risk for sun exposure injury. We get UV exposure during daily activities, such as driving, walking outside, running errands, playing sports or any time we’re outside. And UV rays are harmful year-round, rain or shine. Even when it’s overcast or cool outside, you should practice sun safety.
  • Swimmers, boaters, skiers and hikers are at increased risk for sun injury. The sun’s rays reflect off water, sand and snow, increasing your chances of getting burned faster. UV radiation also increases at higher altitudes.

dad putting sunscreen on son

Getting outside is a great way for kids to be active, cope with life’s ups and downs, and get a daily dose of vitamin D. But it’s important to take sun protection measures whenever kids are outside.

With so many sunscreen options on the market, it can be hard to know what to choose—especially for your kids. Here are some general sunscreen tips:

  • Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and one that says “broad-spectrum” on the label to ensure it will protect kids from both ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. UVA rays cause signs of aging, and UVB rays cause sunburns and most types of skin cancer.
  • Look for “water resistant” on the label. These products will protect your child for 40 to 80 minutes in the water.
  • Apply enough sunscreen to evenly cover all areas of the skin that will be exposed to the sun, especially the face, nose, ears, hands and backs of the knees. Rub it in well.
  • Plan to apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every 2 hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off.
  • Skip the spray. Aerosol sprays can be inhaled into the lungs, alcohol ingredients are flammable, and it’s difficult to apply spray sunscreen evenly. If a spray is your only option, we recommend spraying onto your hands before rubbing it onto your child’s skin.
  • Ask your pediatrician if any of your child’s medicines affect sun exposure. Some medications can make the skin even more sensitive to the sun or may react with sunscreen ingredients.
  • Watch for any reactions when trying a new sunscreen. If your child develops a rash, try looking for options that are made from ingredients that are appropriate for sensitive skin, like zinc oxide. And avoid products that contain oxybenzone, as this ingredient is known to cause allergic reactions.

toddler wearing hat and long sleeves outside

In addition to sunscreen, you can protect your child from sun exposure with clothing and accessories, such as hats and sunglasses.

Our top sun safety tips:

  • Dress your child in, or encourage them to wear, protective clothing. Dark- and bright-colored clothing absorb UV rays and are more protective than light colors. And some fabrics offer more protection than others. To test clothing’s sun protection, hold it up in direct sunlight. If you can see through it, it is less protective. Aim for long sleeves and pants whenever possible.
  • Cover up during long periods of direct exposure. At the beach, pool or lake, try swim shirts or rash guards for kids.
  • Keep hats and sunglasses handy. Wearing wide-brimmed hats (or ball caps facing forward) can add an extra layer of protection. And don’t forget about protecting your little one’s eyes! Sunglasses not only look cool but can also help prevent eye injury.
  • Set a good sun safety example. Kids are more likely to take part in healthy, safe habits if they see adults doing it too. Make sure you wear protective clothing and regularly use sunscreen.

The most important reason to know these sun safety tips is to prevent health problems, such as skin and eye cancer. But as kids get older, you can explain to them the variety of ways it pays to protect themselves from sun exposure.

Exposure to UV rays can cause signs of premature aging, such as wrinkles, loss of skin elasticity, dull skin and dark spots. Sun exposure can also bleach hair and leave it dryer and brittle, leading to more breakage.

If your child has an injury or is showing signs of illness, call your doctor or visit an urgent care center. If your child has a life-threatening injury or illness, is having trouble breathing or is unconscious, call 911 and/or visit an emergency department immediately.