How to Actually Get Your Kids to Wear Sunscreen, As Told By a Mom of 3

posted: 05/22/15
by: Mara Betsch
sunscreen and kids

The sun is shining and your kids want to be out in it. Don't get us wrong -- playing outside is a great way to keep kids active and entertained, but most parents underestimate the damage the sun can do. Consider this: Just one bad sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, as an adult.

But getting kids to wear sunscreen and stay in the shade is easier said than done. To help with the process, we talked to Julie Karen, MD, an NYC-based dermatologist, mom-of-three, and Banana Boat spokesperson. She shared her best tips for keeping you and your children sunburn-free.

Let them apply their own sunscreen

This may sound crazy, but Karen admits that letting her kids have some level of control over wearing sunscreen (broad spectrum and at least SPF 30) prevents meltdowns. She has them begin to apply it, and follows up behind them, applying a second coat and covering any spots they miss (which can be a lot). This also teaches them good habits in the future. And if all else fails, Karen has a creative approach: "Sing songs while you're doing it - little ditty helps!"

Make it a daily routine

"You should be putting on sunscreen every single day," says Karen, especially in the summer months. Your kids may not like it at first, but just like brushing their teeth and making their beds, it will become routine. And if you're going to be in the sun all day, at the beach, lake or water park, you'll need to reapply it every two hours. But be careful when it comes to spray-on sunscreens. In 2014, Consumer Reports issued a warning against them until the FDA investigates their safety. If that's all you have, just spray it on your hands first before applying it to your children's skin.

Try clothing with SPF

"Sunscreen is one component for summer fun," says Karen, "But it's best combined with sunglasses, sun-protective clothing, and a hat." One Step Ahead, Sun Afternoons and plenty of other brands offer swimsuits, hats, shirts, shorts and more with up to a UPF (untraviolet protection factor) of 50.

Pay attention on cloudy days

One of the most common skin care myths is that you don't need sunscreen on cloudy days. But Karen explains that UVA rays, the longer rays that age skin, can still penetrate your skin through the cloud cover. According the Skin Cancer Foundation, up to 80 percent of the sun's UV rays can pass through clouds. So be sure your kids have sunscreen on every day (see #2)

Appeal to your teens' vanities

You may be able to strong-arm younger children into putting on sunscreen but your teenager may want to get a golden glow. Unfortunately, any sort of tan is dangerous. "A tan indicates your sun has been damaged. There's no such thing as a healthy tan," says Karen. In fact, according to a 2014 study published in JAMA Dermatology, the number of skin cancer cases caused by tanning is higher than the number of lung cancer cases caused by smoking. Unfortunately, that argument may not convince your teen. In that case, appeal to their vanities. Let them know that tanning will make them look older and less attractive as they age.

Hope that helps you and your family stay sunburn-free this summer!