Sun Smarts for Small Fries

Choosing and Using Sunscreen
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Today there are all sorts of sunscreens designed especially for kids: purple ones, blue, and scented, to name a few come-ons. Some even claim to be especially formulated for babies.

Do you need to rush out and buy these?

Thankfully, no. You don't need a different sunscreen for every member of your family. In most cases, the ingredients are the same; only the labels are different.

Think of sunscreen like toothpaste. You can go for all those gimmicks, or you can ignore them. Note, however, that the sweet-smelling stuff is more likely to attract bugs, and that's fun in the sun your family doesn't need.

My advice? Insist on sunscreen for your kids, no ifs, ands, or buts. It's a given, like car seats, tooth brushing, and bike helmets. Don't bring out the purple glop unless your brood puts up a big fight and you need to get creative.

On the other hand, some children are sensitive to PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), a common sunscreen ingredient. If you're worried, test a small portion of product on your child's skin. If irritation develops, try a PABA-free sunscreen, or consult your physician if the problem persists.

Here are some basic sunscreen rules:

Always use it, no matter how fair or dark your family's skin.

All ultraviolet (UV) light damages skin. Be sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers protection from both UVAs (the longer, deep-penetrating rays that remain constant throughout the year) and UVBs (shorter rays that are more likely to burn, at their worst in summer).

The only exception is babies under six months old, who shouldn't use sunscreen at all (See "Babies & the Sun").

Always use an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher.

Apply sunscreen liberally about a half hour before going outdoors. One ounce per person is usually needed.

Reapply it every two hours or after swimming, even if the product is "waterproof."

Don't forget the back of the legs, ears, neck, nose, hands, and feet.

For more details, check out the American Academy of Dermatology recommendations about skin cancer and sunscreen at

Babies & the Sun
Last year we took a family beach vacation when our fair-skinned twin girls were five months old. They, however, didn't hit the beach. My husband and I took turns baby-sitting or we left them with their grandparents.

Babies under six months old should not use sunscreen and should not be exposed to the sun. Their delicate skin is very tender. If you must take your babies in the sun, protect them with clothing and hats—remember their bald little heads can fry like eggs. Once kids are old enough for sunscreen, rub it in their scalp if their hair is fair or not thick. Baby cabanas are a good way to protect tots from the sun. They're available at many child product stores. But remember, the sun can reflect onto kids even when they're in the shade. Last, but not least, make sure grandma is around to baby-sit in the shade while you and your spouse head to the beach.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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