Sunscreen Application Is a Process, But Worth It


Corralling my kids long enough to slather the recommended golf ball-sized amount of sunscreen all over their skin is no easy task.  They’re active to say the least, and all of their wriggling and writhing combined with the sunscreen’s greasiness make it messy and challenging.

But it’s worth the extra effort and time because just one blistering sunburn before the age of 18 more than doubles their chances of developing melanoma in adulthood.

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many people I personally know that have had some form of skin cancer, both basal and squamous cell and melanomas.  In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, more than 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed in this country each year.

So what are the best ways to protect your family’s skin this summer? Marty Visscher, PhD, the director of our Skin Sciences Program, offers nine tips:

  1. Apply water-resistant sunscreens 20 minutes before going out in the sun with both UVA and UVB protection, every 1-2 hours.
  2. If swimming, reapply every hour at minimum.
  3. Use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
  4. Apply extra sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium oxide to the nose and lips since areas get the most sun exposure.
  5. Keep babies younger than six months out of the sun, as it can irritate their skin and their eyes are particularly sensitive.
  6. Dress your child in sun-protective clothing that lists the garment’s SPF
  7. Limit outdoor playtime between the hours of 10-3, when the sun is strongest.
  8. Wear sunglasses.
  9. Speak with camp counselors and designated caregivers to make sure they follow the above recommendations.

Choosing a sunscreen is no small task, either. There are so many different versions to choose from and the labeling can be confusing. In 2012 the FDA updated its standards for sunscreens to help consumers find the right one to protect against sunburn, reduce the risk of skin cancer, prevent premature skin aging, and to decrease the chances of label misinterpretation. We summed up all of the updates in a previous blog post to help you navigate the changes.

While you’re looking at those sunscreen labels, you might want to read the list of ingredients more closely, too. According to the Environmental Working Group, ingredients like oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate can cause unwanted side effects. Their website includes a helpful guide to sunscreens, which allows you to search for your preferred brand of sunscreen to see how it ranks against their criteria:  UVA/UVB protection and balance, stability, and health concerns.

Choosing a sunscreen and applying it can definitely be a challenging process, but since none of my kids have received a sunburn, I consider it time well spent. And because they still view sunscreen application as cold, slimy torture, I like to remind them that they’ll appreciate all of the extra prevention measures when they’re older.  My 4-year-old usually responds with, “Like when I’m 8 years old?”

Yes, and then some.


Rachel Camper

About the Author: Rachel Camper

Rachel enjoys her role in social media because she not only gets to share inspirational stories and helpful information with other parents, but she learns all sorts of useful tips along the way! A mother of two highly energetic boys and an infant girl, Rachel enjoys cooking for her family, running with and after her lively kids, and (much needed) relaxing with yoga.

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