Are You Smart About the Sun?


Most of us know that we should put sunscreen on our kids when they’re out in the summer sun.  We know that we should be preventing sunburns and reducing sun exposure for ourselves and our kids to lower the risk of skin cancer.

But how much more do you need to know?  We all realize that it can be a challenge to apply sunscreen to a wiggly kid who just wants to run on the beach or jump into the pool.  My son has an unpredictable relationship with sunscreen; sometimes he think it’s the most exquisite form of child torture and other times he thinks it’s funny and gets ticklish.


(And see a very entertaining New York Times slideshow of photos of kids being applied sunscreen; some are resigned, some are delighted, some are angry.)

So it’s a given that it can be hard to get it on your writhing child.  But do you know enough to pick out the right sunscreen for your kid?

It is all a bit confusing.  New FDA rules for the labeling of sunscreens went into effect in December 2012.  What do you need to know?

First, take a little quiz to see how much you already know about protecting your family from the sun.

1.  Which type of sunscreen protection should you be looking for?

a) one that protects against UVA rays

b) one that protects against UVB rays

c) one that is labelled as “Broad Spectrum” that protects against both

2.  How much sunscreen should you apply?

a) one squeeze or squirt of the sunscreen

b) enough to cover most of the skin

c) at least one ounce (or two tablespoons)

3.  There are two types of sunscreen: chemical sunscreens (that are absorbed by the skin) and physical sunscreens (that sit on the skin’s surface).  If you have sensitive skin, which type may be best for you?

a) either

b) chemical

c) physical

4.  What’s the ideal sun-protection factor (SPF) for daily use?

a) over 50

b) at least 15

c) 30

5) When should you apply sunscreen?

a) at least 15 minutes before sun exposure

b) generously and frequently, about every two hours

c) both a and b


If you chose C for your response to each question, good for you!

Here are a few more tips:

1) Always keep babies out of direct sunlight.

2) Sunscreens may claim to be “water resistant.” However, no sunscreens offer all-day protection.  More important than the type of sunscreen, evidence suggests that it’s critical to apply sunscreen to exposed skin generously and often.  The FDA suggests that you reapply sunscreen every two hours, even more often if you’re in and out of water or getting sweaty.  Most people use as little as half as much sunscreen as they should to get adequate protection.  (And it also doesn’t matter so much if you use spray, gels, mists, or the old-fashioned lotions… But if you do use the spray, the FDA has warned against using them near open sources of flame because the sunscreen could catch fire and cause burns.)

3)  Try to avoid the hours of the day when the sun is the strongest, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and wear as much clothing as possible to avoid cover skin exposed to the sun, with long-sleeved sleeves coverups, for example.

4) Sun burns don’t just happen when it’s sunny outside.  Get in the habit of wearing sunscreen daily, even when it’s cloudy.

5) Sunscreens with a SPF over 50 may be misleading, according to the FDA.  There’s no evidence that SPF values that high offer any extra amounts of protection.  And they may provide a false feeling of security that we’re protected enough to stay out in the sun longer.  Stick to SPF 30, and wear it every day, not just beach days.

And, parents, don’t forget about yourselves!  (I’m completely guilty of this… By the time we pack up the diaper bag, apply the sunscreen, fix the snacks, and fill up the sippy cup, I’m lucky that I remember to dress myself or put on shoes!)  A new study has given more evidence to the fact that sunscreen can prevent, slow or possibly even reverse signs of aging.  (As I get closer to 40, wrinkles tend to be something that I think about occasionally….)

So enjoy the outdoors!  Just make sure you and your family are protected from the sun…

Disclosure:  I receive compensation for my participation in the CHPA educational foundation’s OTC Safety Ambassador program.  However, the content and opinions in  this post are my own.

And check out this slideshow for even more information….



9 thoughts on “Are You Smart About the Sun?”

  1. I got them all right, but I’ve had skin cancer so I’ve done my homework! I also have sensitive skin so I have to go with a physical sunscreen most of the time. So glad you did this post today. It’s SUCH an important thing for moms to know so they can protect themselves and their families!! –Lisa

  2. I just enrolled my daughter and I into an outdoor sports class,and I’m fretting about the sun exposure, so this couldn’t have come at a better time. We’re off to buy a better sun hat and some strong sun block RIGHT NOW!!!!

  3. Such good tips! I admit I feel like I don’t always do the best job with sunscreen. Another thing I feel bad about is my tendency to use the spray sunscreens because they are so much more convenient- but probably not the best sunscreens available. Thanks for breaking things down in such a convenient way!

  4. I have gotten better about the sun lately but was terrible about it when younger. Let’s hope I didn’t wait too long to change my ways!

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  6. You will appreciate that I always wear a hat when I’m at the pool or walking outside and I’m crazy about sunscreen for me and the kids. I’m a freckly-birthmark type so I get checked twice a year. 🙂

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  8. Excellent. As a pediatrician I value Preventive care above all but professionally I know that important health topics are often overlooked in the very short time for “routine” visits. Thank you for a concise and great educational review. A P.

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