Myths and Truths About Sun Protection for Children

Sun protection for children is essential due to their delicate and sensitive skin. Here are some myths and truths about it.
Myths and Truths About Sun Protection for Children
Maria del Carmen Hernandez

Written and verified by the dermatologist Maria del Carmen Hernandez.

Last update: 23 April, 2023

Sun protection in children is indicated to reduce skin damage caused by ultraviolet radiation and subsequent skin cancer. Photoprotection includes clothing, hats, makeup, sunscreens, and sunglasses. However, there are some considerations in this regard that aren’t true.

Here are some myths and truths about sun protection.

Myths about sun protection for children

Summer or sunny days are a child’s best friend. While exposure to sunlight provides healthy benefits and improves overall mood, lack of proper protection can have the opposite effect.

Myth #1: There’s no need for sunscreen in winter

According to advice from the FDA, even on cloudy days, up to 80% of ultraviolet rays are able to pass through clouds. The sun’s rays can also bounce off reflective surfaces, such as water, concrete, sand, and snow, making exposure a year-round risk.

Therefore, it’s best to stay in the shade as much as possible. Severe and recurrent sunburns are a risk factor for non-melanoma skin cancer.

A parent putting sunscreen on a child's face on a ski slope.
Both in the winter and on cloudy days, the effects of the sun can be harmful if the necessary precautions aren’t taken. Sunscreen should be used year-round.

Myth #2: You can use the same sunscreen from one year to the next

Some sunscreens include an expiration date that indicates when they’re no longer effective. Consequently, if the sunscreen has already expired, it should be discarded. In order to keep the product in good condition, you should avoid exposing the container to direct sunlight or excessive heat. In fact, expired sunscreen often loses consistency or color and may differ from the time it was purchased.

Containers must show their period after opening (PaO) date. This indicates how many months it can remain open and in use after being opened for the first time.

Myth #3: Sunscreen should only be applied once a day

Correct administration of sunscreen is key to effective use. Therefore, a generous and even film of sunscreen should be applied about 15 minutes before sun exposure. The appropriate amount is 2 mg/cm2, which equals 30 ml/body application, and should be reapplied every 2 hours or after swimming and perspiring.

Truths about sun protection in children

The sun can make a positive contribution to children. However, they must be well protected to avoid the damage it causes in the present and, by accumulation, in the future. We shouldn’t demonize the sun and its effects but rather take certain precautions and controls to be able to enjoy it in a healthy way.

Truth #1: Children should wear sunscreen even if they have dark skin

Everyone should use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, with an SPF greater than 30. Although children with dark skin rarely tan or burn, sun damage is evident. Tanning is a defense mechanism of the skin against the aggression caused by prolonged sun exposure.

A black mother putting sunscreen on her daughter at the beach.
Children with dark skin may have some built-in skin protection due to melanin that filters out more UV radiation. However, this natural protection can only go so far, so they should also use sunscreens.

Truth #2: Sunscreen should have an SPF of 30 or 50+

Sunscreens with an SPF of 50+ that incorporate photostabilized or photostable, i.e., broad-spectrum, UVA filters are usually ideal. The sun protection factor measures protection primarily against UVB rays. However, there’s increasing evidence incriminating UVA rays in the development of skin cancer.

Sunscreens 30 or 50 provide protection against 97 to 98% of UVB rays. While a higher sunscreen may block 99% of UVB rays, this’s only a very slight increase.

Truth #3: Sun exposure is prohibited in infants

According to the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants under 6 months of age shouldn’t be exposed directly to ultraviolet rays.

Wearing light clothing that covers all exposed areas is essential, as well as taking advantage of shady outdoor spaces. Sunscreens should be free of dyes and parabens and should be hypoallergenic.

Sun protection for children

Ultraviolet radiation protection and sun safety for children encompass much more than the use of sunscreen. These safety recommendations involve the correct use of broad-spectrum sunscreens, wearing sunglasses with UV protection, and choosing as much protective clothing as possible. Even seeking shade and limiting exposure when the sun is strong are good preventive practices.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Petersen B, Wulf HC. Application of sunscreen–theory and reality. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2014 Apr-Jun;30(2-3):96-101. doi: 10.1111/phpp.12099. Epub 2014 Jan 6. PMID: 24313722.
  • Yang EJ, Beck KM, Maarouf M, Shi VY. Truths and myths in sunscreen labeling. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2018 Dec;17(6):1288-1292. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12743. Epub 2018 Aug 15. PMID: 30112840.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.