With four outdoor-loving kids and lots of pool and beach time on our calendar this summer, you can bet I am always stocking up on sunscreen. I’m pretty careful about when and how I slather it on, too, which is why I was surprised to see that I was making a few very common mistakes when it comes to applying sunscreen to kids. Ack.
If you’re going to be applying sunscreen to kids — and hopefully yourself — this summer, you’ll want to check these common mistakes parents make and what to do about them.
No need to feel guilty; just good things to remember the next time you grab the sunscreen bottle and head outside.
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Related: The EWG 2016 safest sunscreens: Which are the most affordable?
Sunscreen Mistake #1: Waiting to apply until you’re outdoors
Sunscreen actually needs about 15 minutes to be absorbed into your skin, so it’s super important that you apply it well before heading out the door. Plus, it’s much easier to apply it while you’re still at home than when the kids are eager to scamper off to play. Plus, no need to torture them by making them wait 15 minutes before they can jump into the water.
Also, applying sunscreen like body lotion before everyone gets suited up can help ensure you take your time to get all the spots. Swimsuits shift when you’re outdoors, and along those swimsuit lines is often where kids (and you) will see burns from missed spots.
Sunscreen Mistake #2: Not applying in the right places
It’s super easy to forget certain smaller body parts, like ears, feet, and lips, so be sure to take your time and get everything covered. Some parents like to purchase separate sunscreen products for applying to the body and the face. For example, there are sunscreen sticks just for kids (such as the Burt’s Bees Baby Bee SPF 30 stick for kids, above), as well as dedicated lip balms with SPF, both of which help make it easier to remember to protect all the exposed skin.
Sunscreen Mistake #3: Not applying enough sunscreen
Slather on the sunscreen, mamas! Dermatologists recommend at least one ounce of sunscreen for each application, or more depending on the person’s size. That’s basically enough to fill a shot glass. If you’re not applying enough, you won’t reap the benefits of the specific SPF you purchased, and the American Academy of Dermatology suggests that most people only use 25-50% of the recommended amount! So, don’t scrimp, especially if your kids are going to be hitting the water.
Related: The best modest 2-piece swimsuits for girls
Sunscreen Mistake #4: Not reapplying often enough
You’ll want to reapply sunscreen every two hours at minimum; and more frequently if your kids are swimming or sweating. Use a sports or water-resistant sunscreen and be sure to check the label for specific details in terms of how long your own brand lasts in water. I’ve actually started setting alarms on my phone to remind myself to reapply, because time, especially at the pool or beach, can easily get away from me.
While not every parent wants to use spray sunscreens, especially on very young children, the form factor can definitely help make reapplication a lot quicker and easier. There are a few ones we really love, like Babyganics Spray Safe Sunscreen, and COOLA Suncare Body Unscented Sunscreen Spray (shown above) which is included in our roundup of the top EWG safe sunscreens just for kids.
Just keep in mind that spray sunscreen can make application pretty uneven, so it’s always best to rub it in with your hands afterwards, to be sure your kids are getting full coverage.
Sunscreen Mistake #5: Using expired sunscreen
I didn’t know until recently that sunscreen has an expiration date. (I have no idea how I missed that!) Definitely check your bottle or tube to see if what you bought last summer is still usable now. The likelihood is that it’s not. In which case, toss it and start fresh with a brand new tube or bottle.
If the date is still fine but the sunscreen is clumping or separating, you should rid of that too, because those are both signs that the sunscreen is likely to be less effective.
Sunscreen Mistake #6: Relying on sunscreen alone to keep your family protected
Sunscreen can only do so much. If you’re going to be out in the sun for long periods, consider investing in one of our recent recommendations for the best sun hats for babies and kids like this one above from Boden. And don’t forget yourself! We’ve also got a great list of cool protective sun hats for women.
Also look into brands of UPF clothing (we love Baby Banz), and consider swimwear with more coverage, like the kids’ rash guards from Cabana Life to help provide you and your children with extra protection from damaging UV rays.
And don’t forget, whether it’s provided by a tree or a beach umbrella, sometimes shade can be your very best friend. And it often doesn’t cost a thing.
top image via Barney Moss via cc license
Thanks for this article. I never thought about sunscreen having an expiration date. And you make a great point about applying it indoors to absorb well.
One other tip. Whatever sunscreen you choose make sure it says “Broad Spectrum” on the label. This means you’ll get UVB and UVA protection. If it doesn’t say “Broad Spectrum” you’re only getting UVB protection no matter how high the SPF. It’s why all our sun care products are broad spectrum.
Thanks for that! – Eds