How to choose your child’s sunscreen

how-to-choose-your-childs-sunscreenEvery Kiwi parent knows to “slip, slop, slap,” but how exactly do you choose the best sunscreen for your child?

It may sound easy, but a quick trip to the supermarket or pharmacy reveals a mind-boggling plethora of choices:  organic or mineral? Water-resistant or sweat-resistant? Lotion or spray? Choosing the right sunscreen for your kids can be tricky, but what you ultimately have to consider in the harsh New Zealand sun is which sunscreen best protects your littlie from UV rays.

A quick guide to this is the sun protection factor (SPF) numbers on the labels of sunscreens. Look for an SPF of 30 or higher to prevent sunburn and tanning, both of which are signs of skin damage. A SPF30 sunscreen filters 96.7% of UV radiation if applied correctly, and an SPF50+ filters 98% of UV radiation if applied correctly, so there’s not a lot of difference in performance, but there can be a difference in price. When it comes to sunscreen, price isn’t always an indication of quality.

Also, check that the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays and has AS/NZ 2604 standard on the label.

Sprays are often easier and quicker to apply on wriggling kids than a thick, heavy cream-based sunscreen, but the danger with a spray lies in the fact that it’s hard to tell if you have applied enough or left gaps that will result in angry, red marks in a couple of hours.

Also with sprays, you need to be extra careful if your child is susceptible to allergies. Sprays are easy to breath in, which can irritate the lungs. Also, check to make sure that your sunscreen doesn’t contain PABA, which can cause allergies. If your child has sensitive skin, look for products with the active ingredient titanium dioxide.

The Cancer Society recommends that sunscreen is applied 20-minutes prior to sun exposure to allow time for it to dry and be absorbed into the skin. It will need to be reapplied every two hours when kids are outdoors and sweating or in water. Don’t forget those hard-to-get-to-areas like ears, hands, feet, shoulders and behind the neck. Lift up bathing suit straps and apply sunscreen underneath in case the straps shift as your child moves.

Some sunscreens are advertised as water-resistant, but reapply when your child comes out of the water regardless. Also, always check the expiration date on your sunscreen. Any sunscreen that is past it expiration date, or that you have had for 3-years or longer, needs to be thrown out. Better safe than sorry!

Most importantly, once you have chosen your sunscreen, remember to be a good role model. Consistently wearing sunscreen with SPF 30+ or greater, and limiting your sun exposure, will reduce your risk of skin damage and teach your kids good sun sense.