How to Apply

Parents should look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, and for an SPF 15 lip balm for face and hands; the waxy form stays on and does not sting or taste bad. Toddlers can apply it themselves. Do a patch test by applying a small amount of sunscreen on the inside of a child's wrist the day before it is going to be used all over. If irritation or rash develops, ask a physician to recommend a nonirritating alternative.

Sunscreens should not be used on infants under six months of age. After a baby reaches six months of age, experts agree on the importance of using sunscreen especially made for children. Most of these do not contain PABA, which can be irritating to the skin. Unscented sunscreens are a better choice because they do not attract insects. The SPF should be at least 15, manufactured by a major drug company and purchased at a store with a large turnover. Look for an expiration date (lack of one probably indicates there are no ingredients that will deteriorate).

Sunscreen should be applied in all exposed areas and under thin clothing, 15 to 30 minutes before exposure (it takes that long for the ingredients to penetrate the skin). When applying sunscreen, the child's skin should be well coated, including hands, ears, nose, lips, and areas around the eyes. The eyes or eyelids should be avoided. It may help to apply sunscreen to your hands first, and then rub it on a young child.

Sunscreen should be applied before going into the sun, and every two hours thereafter (more often if the child plays in water or sweats a lot).

Zinc oxide on the nose and lips may give more protection. However, parents should never put baby oil on the child before going outdoors; it makes the skin translucent, letting the sun's rays pass through more easily.

Sunscreen should be applied before going outside even in cloudy weather, since 80 percent of the sun's rays break through the clouds, and then reapplied every two hours and again after swimming. Waterproof or water-resistant sunscreens can be applied less often, but experts recommend an extra application after swimming if there is any uncertainty about the need for more.

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