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Choosing and Using Sunscreen

Published on Jul. 02, 2024

As the summer heats up and our children enjoy playing outside, it’s time to talk about how to protect them from the sun. Not only does protecting our kids from the sunlight prevent those painful sunburns, it also helps to prevent skin cancer and sun aging. But what is the best way to protect them from sunlight? The steps below will help ensure a fun summer free of sunburn for your child.

Choosing Sunscreen

When looking for sunscreen, the number of options can be overwhelming. To simplify things, look for a product with these two things - “broad spectrum” and an SPF of at least 30. If possible, avoid oxybenzone or other chemical sunscreens and instead choose a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Applying Sunscreen

Sunscreen should be applied prior to going out into the sun. Ensure any sun-exposed areas such as arms, legs and the face have sunscreen applied - you can even have your child help out too! To make applying sunscreen more of a fun experience, try using make-up brushes to apply it. This is a great way to involve kids in the sunscreen application process while practicing their fine motor skills! 

To avoid inhalation when using spray sunscreens, spray the sunscreen onto your hands first then apply it to your child. Reapply every two hours, or after swimming, sweating or toweling off. Since sunscreen has to be reapplied so frequently, it is best to avoid sunscreen-insect repellent combinations.

Other Sun Protection

Remember: the more surface of the skin is covered, the better the protection. Long sleeved swimsuits or rash guards can help provide extra protection and make the application of sunscreen quicker. Hats can also provide protection for the head, face and back of the neck.

Protecting Babies

In general, sunscreen is not recommended for infants younger than 6 months. It is better to keep these little ones out of direct exposure to the sunlight. When it is not possible to cover a baby’s skin with clothing or hats, it is okay to use sunscreen over small areas - just ensure that infants cannot place sunscreen-covered areas in their mouths.

Summer is a great time to get outside with your children. Make sure you have your sunscreen to avoid a sunburn and have more fun in the sun!


About the Authors

Hailey Nelson, MD, FAAP, IBCLC is a complex care pediatrician at Valley Children’s Charlie Mitchell Children’s Center. Dr. Nelson enjoys working with children of all ages and abilities and is especially passionate about providing the best possible care to medically fragile children and their families. As the ambassador for Safe Kids Central California, she is a vocal advocate for children’s wellness and regularly appears in news media discussing pediatric healthcare. She is also a licensed breastfeeding consultant, certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants to support nursing mothers and their babies. Learn more about Dr. Nelson here. 


Dr. Maria Barajas-McGahan is a Central Valley native who has come to Valley Children's from University of California, Davis School of Medicine and recently finished her third year of Postgraduate Residency. Her care philosophy is family-centered care that focuses on preventative health and promotion of healthy lifestyles for children. She is an advocate for compassionate care and leads by administering care that she would expect for her own family. Learn more about Dr. Barajas-McGahan here.