Sunscreen Dangers for Kids

Medically reviewed in June 2021

We all know the basics when packing for a day at the beach. Towels? Check. Bathing suits? Check. Spray sunscreen? HOLD ON.

Anyone who's raised a toddler knows that it’s easier to get them to eat their vegetables (well, almost) than to keep them still long enough to slather on sunscreen lotion. So, it would seem like sunscreen sprays are the perfect solution.

It would seem.

Unfortunately, the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) announced recently that it’s investigating the use of spray sunscreens on children. Spray sunscreens have particulates that get into the air and can be inhaled by a wriggling, hollering child — and may trigger respiratory problems. This can especially be a problem in children with allergies or asthma, since chemicals of various kinds have been shown to trigger asthma attacks.

So what should you do? First of all, GOOD JOB for focusing on sun protection for your children. Research shows that even just a few sunburns in childhood can increase one’s risk of skin cancer later in life. However, while the FDA is investigating, I’d recommend replacing your spray sunscreen with a lotion or cream.

Here are more tips to keep your family sun-safe:

  • Avoid using spray sunscreens on children whenever possible. If you have nothing else available, spray it onto your hand and rub it on. The downside is it can be difficult to know if you're applying enough since you can’t see it as easily as you can a lotion. Adults can use spray sunscreens, just don’t spray it on your face (use the same “spray on hand” method) and avoid breathing it in.
  • Children under 6 months should never be exposed to direct sun anyway. Keep them in the shade as much as possible and dress them in swimwear with built-in UV protection. Add a hat and glasses (awww come on, baby sunglasses are ADORABLE ) and they're good to go.
  • Always reapply kids' sunscreen every 2 hours or after swimming. Here, too UV- protective tops and bathing suits reduce the surface area that needs added sunscreen protection.
  • Don’t skimp on the sunscreen—a full adult body needs a shot-glass worth of sunscreen—probably more than you’d think. Apply accordingly for little ones, too.
  • What type to buy? The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin. I prefer to use physical sunblocks on kids—those containing titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, since these sit on top of the skin, as opposed to being absorbed.

These tips are great for kids, but they apply just as easily to adults. Keep skin protected to not only reduce skin cancer risk, but to minimize wrinkles and brown spots as well.

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