Kids' Sunscreen Advice: How Often Should I Re-Apply And What Factor Should I Use?

PLUS: Do you know the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens?

When the sun is out, getting kids to sit still long enough to apply suncream is a battle you don’t want to have to face more often than is necessary. So how frequently should parents be reapplying sunscreen on children?

Before even thinking about when to re-apply, you need to make sure you’ve chosen the best suncream for your kids. This includes making sure you have the right factor, as well as buying one with a high UVA rating.

What factor suncream should I use on my kids?

SPF stands for sun protection factor and protects against UVB rays, which are responsible for sunburn and are linked to skin cancer. Dr Emma Wedgeworth, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson says that “higher factors, for example SPF 30-50, should be chosen for children,” and says the absolute minimum SPF you should use on kids is 30.

And babies?

For babies under six months old, Dr Wedgeworth says sun avoidance is generally advised.

If necessary you can use certain types of sunscreen on a baby under six months. Suncreams fall into two categories: Chemical sunscreens that use chemicals to absorb the sun’s rays, and physical sunscreens that use natural compounds to block the sun’s rays. The latter “may be used in infants if necessary, but in general behavioural changes and covering the skin are the best options,” advises Dr Wedgeworth. Physical sunscreens will include zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in the ingredients.

For babies aged six to 12 months, a chemical sunscreen may be used, although protective clothing should also be worn.

What about the UVA star rating?

UVA stands for ultraviolet-A, this is another type of sun ray that has been inked to cancer. Suncreams carry a star rating to show how much UVA protection they offer and Cancer Research’s health expert, Sophia Lowes, says you want one with four or five stars for the UVA rating. “The SPF and the UVA together both protect the skin in different ways, so you need high ratings of both of them together to get the best protection,” she adds.

Once you’ve got the right suncream and you’ve applied it before they play out in the sun, the next battle is remembering to re-apply during the day.

How should I apply suncream to my kids?

Lowes says people usually only use a quarter of the amount of suncream that they should - so it’s likely that you need to put more on your kids that you expect. Lowes says to follow directions on the bottle, which states how much should be applied.

Another important thing to note is that parents often miss parts of their child’s skin, so do take time to ensure all areas are covered. “Don’t forget to apply it to their shoulders, nose, ears, cheeks and the tops of their feet,” the NHS advises. “Be especially careful to protect your child’s shoulders and the back of their neck when they’re playing, as these are the most common areas for sunburn.”

How often should I reapply my child’s suncream?

Nowadays there are so many different products available, including lotions, mousses, sprays and gels, so it’s hard for even experts to answer this. It’s worth checking the back of your bottle to see what it advises. It also depends on what the child is doing. Are they in direct sunlight all day? Are they playing in the paddling pool, or sweating it off by playing sport? Is the cream rubbing off on clothes?

“Suncream should definitely be reapplied more than once a day,” Lowes says. But, as a rule of thumb, if your child is going to be in direct sunlight for a long period of time, Dr Wedgeworth says you should first apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes before going out and reapply every two to three hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.

The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) also advises: “Reapply it at least every two hours, and immediately after swimming, perspiring and towel drying or if it has rubbed off.

Lowes advises it is important to keep in mind that sunscreen shouldn’t be the first line of defence against sun damage. “What’s also important is shade and clothing, so if you’re worried about when to reapply, stick your kids in the shade for a bit,” she says.

How do I get my child to sit still long enough for me to apply suncream?

Some children dislike the feel and the inconvenience of regular sunscreen application, while others resent having to stand still when they could be playing. “Distraction techniques can be useful, as well as different modes of application such as sticks or sprays for the face and nose,” Dr Wedgeworth advises. “The type of technique would completely depend on the child. Perhaps apply sunscreen in front of the television or whilst your child is playing with a toy so that they are entertained.”

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