How to Pick the Right Sunscreen

Family holiday in summer putting on sunscreen, playing indoors out of the sun and watching tv
Family holiday in summer putting on sunscreen, playing indoors out of the sun and watching tv

With so many brands and protection levels, sunscreen is a mystery that we’ve all been trying to solve through trial and error. Last time using SPF 30 we got a sunburn, so this time I’ll try SPF 50. The store brand has been working just as well as the name brand, so I’ll save a few bucks and go this route. It is all just a guessing game, but when it comes to kids, we tend to be more cautious to keep them protected. Luckily, Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital, has created a checklist for parents to use when choosing sunscreen for their children.

Step 1: Broad Spectrum
Look for a sunscreen that is labeled as a broad spectrum sunscreen. This means that the lotion will protect against UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are those that cause skin damage, and UVB rays are what cause the skin to burn.

Step 2: Go for SPF 30
Dr. Swanson says that sunscreens with higher SPF numbers like 50 and 70 do not significantly increase protection from harmful rays. SPF 30 is her recommendation when shopping for sunscreen.

Step 3: Mineral Sunscreen
There are two categories when it comes to sunscreen – mineral, and chemical. Look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as your active ingredient because they are less likely to absorb into the skin. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens are more likely to absorb into the skin and should be avoided.

Step 4: Application
Now that you’ve chosen a sunscreen using the criteria above, it is time to apply. Dr. Swanson recommends that sunscreen be applied 20 minutes prior to sun activities and reapplication every hour or two.

Other Tips:
It is recommended that spray sunscreens be avoided because it is hard to know how thick the application is as you spray. More research is also needed on the risks posed from inhaling the spray sunscreen as it is being applied.

Babies under six months old should avoid sunscreen altogether. For such small babies, it is advised to use clothing to cover them up as well as accessories like hats and sunglasses if they go outdoors, but avoiding sun exposure altogether is preferred.

Keeping children safe and healthy is the goal of parents and choosing the right sun protection and knowing how often to apply it is an important part of that. The sun can have very harmful effects on the skin and eyes, and precautions to avoid serious damage should start being implemented at an early age.