Sun Safety for Kids: 10 Tips Parents Need to Know

These sun safety tips can help keep your kids healthy and happy all summer long.

Published April 7, 2023
Mother applying sunscreen lotion on her son's skin

Wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, and take breaks indoors during peak heating hours. Television meteorologists tell us this on repeat every single day throughout the summer months. I should know. I was one for over a decade. The problem is, these simple tips can be hard to follow when you have a squirmy little toddler or active kids who always seem to sweat away their sun protection.

So what are the best ways to ensure sun safety for kids without a lot of headache? We highlight the best sun safety tips for parents that can better your chances for a spectacular summer!

Sun Safety for Babies

Babies younger than six months of age need to stay out of direct sunlight. Not only is their skin more susceptible to UV radiation, but health experts advise parents to not use sunscreen before a child's half birthday. Instead, keep them under shade. This can be below a patio cover, beneath a stroller canopy, or with an umbrella.

Also, take breaks from hot conditions whenever possible. Young infants struggle to regulate their temperatures and they overheat easily.

Sun Safety for Kids and Teens

Sun protection is actually quite simple when you stay proactive every day. Here are ten effective ways to ensure your kids stay sun safe every single day of the year.

Buy Sunscreen With Certain Qualifications

Not all sunscreen is created equal! When choosing a skin protectant, here are the key things to look for:

Looking at sunscreen lotion in the pharmacy
  • SPF 30 or greater
  • UVA and UVB protection
  • Top Ingredients: Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide
  • Water Resistant

Without meeting these criteria, your child's skin will feel the effects of the sun's UV rays sooner, making burns much more likely. To make application easier on younger kids, parents should keep all forms of sunscreen on hand-sprays, lotions, and sticks. Don't forget about SPF chapstick too.

Apply Sunscreen Before You Leave the House

One of the biggest mistakes parents make in terms of sun safety for kids is applying sunblock to their kid's skin after they are already outside. If you take the time to read the bottle, it explicitly notes that sunscreen should be applied at least 15 minutes prior to sun exposure. This ensures that it can soak in and work effectively. Conversely, if you apply this protectant right before your kids swim or sweat, it's going to wash off right away.

Quick Tip

Make sunscreen a part of your kid's daily routine in the summer. Every morning, have them get dressed and apply sunblock to exposed skin before doing anything else. This puts protection in place and ensures that even if you are running late, they're covered!

Reapply Sunscreen as Directed

As you continue to peruse your sunscreen bottle's instructions, you will also find that your kids need to reapply every two hours. However, there are two exceptions:

  • If your child dries themselves with a towel, immediate reapplication is necessary.
  • If your child is swimming or sweating, reapplication should occur much sooner. For most, the recommended time is after 80 minutes.

Remember that every brand is different, so take two minutes to read the bottle. (And if you claim you don't have a moment to spare, think about the non-stop complaints that will come with the alternative.)

Wear the Right Clothing

Want your kids to stay sun safe and avoid overheating? Here's what to dress your kids in to protect them from the sun:

Little girl in sunglasses on the beach
  • Select loose, lightweight shirts and pants made from cotton or bamboo materials.
  • Choose light colors to reflect the sunlight away.
  • Accessorize with hats that have at least a 3-inch brim.
  • Shade their eyes with 100 percent UV protection sunglasses.

Want to elevate your kid's summer wardrobe this year? Skip the sunscreen wrestling match, or at least the majority of it, and buy sun protective clothing that does the work for you.

Helpful Hack

Sun protective clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of 50+ will block out 98 percent of the sun's harmful rays. Free Fly Apparel and Coolibar are fantastic brands that sell these types of products.

Take Breaks Indoors or in the Shade

Peak heating hours are normally between 10 AM and 4PM. This is the time frame when the sun is at its highest point and temperatures reach their max. If you have to be out during this window of time, make a point to take frequent breaks indoors and to hydrate more often.

Need to Know

Pay attention to sweat! If your kids are active and not sweating, that's a huge red flag. Heat strokes can happen when you least expect it. This is why frequent breaks and drinking water regularly is so important.

Hydrate Before Going Outside

Speaking of hydrating, when your kids say "I'm thirsty," they're already dehydrated. One of the best ways to ensure that they don't incur heat-related illnesses is to make sure they're drinking enough water before, during, and after activities outside.

A common problem that parents face is that you can tell your kids to drink water until they are blue in the face, but that doesn't mean that they will actually drink it. An easy way to make sure hydration is always happening is to simply include water-rich foods in every meal!

Fast Fact

Want to know how much water your kids need to stay hydrated? Figure out how much they weigh in pounds. This is the number of ounces they should aim to consume on an active outdoor day. For instance, if your son weighs 50 pounds, then aim for 50 ounces.

Watch What They Eat

Did you know that there are foods that make you more prone to getting a sunburn? Citrus fruit, especially limes, celery, and carrots, contain natural chemicals called furocoumarins. "When exposed to ultraviolet light, furocoumarins cause skin cell damage that can result in swelling, rashes, and blistering." While consuming these items before heading out in the sun is normally safe, they're not an ideal option for when in the sun.

Mother and daughter eating watermelon and having fun at the beach

The juices from these fruits and vegetables can get on your kid's hands, face, and lips, which can lead to a very uncomfortable reaction. This is especially true for kids who are swimming or playing sports. Poison Control notes that "the presence of wet skin, sweating, heat, and humidity can make an exposure more severe."

What is most important to note is that sunscreen will not protect your kids from these reactions, so pay attention to the snacks you pack.

Consider Medications & Beauty Products That Cause Sun Sensitivity

Certain medications can cause your kids and teens to be more sensitive to sunshine. This makes sun protectants like clothing and sunscreen even more important. Some of these drugs include:

  • Antihistamines: Claritin, Benadryl, and Zyrtec
  • NSAIDs: Aleve and Ibuprofen
  • Antibiotics
  • Oral Contraceptives

Also, many people don't realize that certain perfumes and scented soaps can also make your skin more susceptible to the sun's UV rays. This means that your kids should avoid using these products before heading outdoors.

Check the Forecast

Contrary to popular belief, heat isn't required for a sunburn to occur. In fact, the sun can damage your skin 365 days a year on both sunny and cloudy days. Yes, that's right. The sun's UV rays can penetrate the clouds and reach your skin, so don't skimp on sunscreen just because it's overcast.

Man looking at the daily weather on his smartphone app

The reason sun safety becomes more important in the summer is that when heat is present, it lessens the time it takes for your skin to burn. In fact, when the UV Index is at its highest (8+), it can take as little as 10 minutes for skin to burn without the proper protection.

This means parents need to check the forecast daily. Pay attention to the Heat Index number forecasted by meteorologists. The higher the number, the more protection that is required.

Think About Where You Live

When it comes to the sun, your location and your elevation matter. Folks in the southern United States are going to get a higher daily dose of UV radiation. So will those who live at higher elevations.

Take two minutes to Google where you are above sea level. The average for the U.S. is approximately 2,500 feet. If you live above this mark, you might make sunscreen a regular part of your morning routine, especially during the summer months.

Also, don't forget to consider where your outdoor activities will be taking place. Reflective surfaces like water, sand, and pavement make individuals more prone to getting burned, so extra protection is necessary if you'll be in areas that have these surfaces.

Sun Safety Begins With Being Proactive

Summer is a time filled with fun, but this makes it easy to get sidetracked. The best way to combat this is to follow smart sun safety practices like making sunscreen a part of your routine, investing in products that prevent UV rays from getting through, setting alarms so that you don't forget about reapplication, and paying regular attention to your family's hydration. Being aware and proactive can go a long way in keeping the whole family safe.

Sun Safety for Kids: 10 Tips Parents Need to Know