Sun Protection for Children

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Sun protection is important for everyone, no matter what your age. Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.

Whether you’re enjoying a day together at the beach or watching your child participate in an outdoor sport, it’s important to develop habits that will protect the whole family from the sun.

Wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses protect the skin


Sunlight consists of two types of harmful UV rays: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB):

  • UVB rays are the sun’s burning rays and are the primary cause of
  • UVA rays reach deeper into the skin and lead to signs of premature skin aging, such as wrinkling and age spots. UVA rays can travel through window glass leading to exposure even when you are indoors or when you and your child are riding in a

The immediate reason why protecting your child’s skin is important is to prevent sunburn. Sunburns can happen within 15 minutes of being in the sun. However, the redness and discomfort your child will feel can last for several days.

Longer term, you should know that sun exposure adds up. The more sun exposure children receive can increase their risk of skin cancer in the future. As the damage from sun exposure builds, it also speeds up the aging of your child’s skin.

Unprotected sun exposure is especially dangerous for children with light skin or hair color, and those with lots of moles and freckles.

Therefore, teaching your children sun protection when they are young can help them develop life-long sun-safe habits and reduce their risk of skin cancer.


The best way to encourage sun protection habits is to incorporate it as a daily routine. Just like children brush their teeth or wash their hands, they should think about sun protection – wearing protective clothes and applying sunscreen – before going outside.

Reapply sunscreen every two hours, especially after swimming and sweating

Here are some tips to help you incorporate sun-safety into your child’s life:

  • Seek shade. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. When children are outdoors, ask them to look at their shadow. If their shadow appears to be shorter than they are, the sun’s rays are strongest and they should seek
    • Try to schedule activities to avoid these peak sun hours. Encourage your child’s coaches to schedule practices and games early in the day or later in the
    • If you can’t find shade, create your own using an umbrella, canopy, a tree, or if you are with a young child, the

hood of a stroller.

  • Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, where possible.
    • Most clothing absorbs or reflects some UV rays. However, light-colored and loose-knit fabrics as well as wet clothes that cling to the skin do not offer much sun protection. In general, the tighter the weave of the fabric and the darker the fabric color, the more UV protection clothing
  • Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher to all exposed skin. “Broad spectrum” provides protection from both UVA and UVB
    • Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going
    • Reapply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or
  • Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand because they reflect and intensify the damaging rays of the sun,

which can increase the chance of sunburn.

You can model sun-safe behavior for your child. Make sure your child sees you applying sunscreen and seeking shade. Keep a fully stocked bag of sunscreen, sunglasses and protective clothing near your door so when you head outdoors, you can grab it and go.


Ideally, babies under 6 months should not spend time directly in the sun. Since a baby’s skin is much more sensitive than an adults, sunscreens should be avoided if possible.

The best sun protection for babies younger than 6 months is to keep them in the shade as much as possible, because babies aren’t able to regulate their temperature well so they can easily become overheated. Dress them in

sun-protective clothing, such as a lightweight, long sleeve shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection.

For toddlers and infants 6 months or older, sunscreen can be applied to skin not covered by clothing. Look for sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They may cause less irritation.

In addition to sun protection, stay safe on hot days by making sure your baby or child does not get overheated and

drinks plenty of fluids.


The American Academy of Dermatology has a variety of free, downloadable resources at its SPOT Skin Cancer™ website,, that can help you explain to your child the importance of sun protection. You will find fun games and activities that your whole family will enjoy. You can also download sun safety presentations and classroom activities to share with your child’s teacher.

A board-certified dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating the medical, surgical, and cosmetic conditions of the skin, hair and nails. To learn more or to find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit or call toll free (888) 462-DERM (3376).

Visit the SPOT Skin Cancer™ website — — to:

  • Learn how to perform a skin self-exam
  • Download a body mole map for tracking changes on your
  • Find free SPOTme® skin cancer screening in your
  • Share your skin cancer

All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides

American Academy of Dermatology

P.O. Box 1968, Des Plaines, Illinois 60017
AAD Public Information Center: 888.462.DERM (3376) AAD Member Resource Center: 866.503.SKIN (7546) Outside the United States: 847.240.1280