How to Get Kids to Wear Sunscreen

Charlotte Miller

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Navigating parenthood comes with its fair share of joys and challenges, one of which is ensuring our kids are safe and healthy – and this includes protecting their skin from the sun. As parents, we know the dangers of UV rays, but the real task is convincing our little ones that sunscreen needs to be applied before we send them outdoors. On top of that, there may be times when they need to pause playtime so that we can reapply it. 

Here, we’ve put together some helpful tips to make sunscreen application a bit more appealing and hopefully a more hassle-free part of your family’s daily routine.

1. Explain (in easy terms!) why sunscreen is so important.

Explaining the significance of sunscreen to kids can be a challenge, but keeping it simple and relatable can make a big difference. It’s about breaking down the concept to their level. “Sunscreen keeps your skin happy and safe from the sun’s hot rays, just like a hat or sunglasses.” Emphasize how it helps prevent sunburns, which can be uncomfortable and painful, by likening sunscreen to a shield that protects them while they play and explore. Making the explanation straightforward and connecting it to their experiences can go a long way.

2. Choose a sunscreen intended for kids.

Selecting the right sunscreen for your child is more than just picking any bottle off the shelf or just using whatever you plan to use for yourself. You’ll be better off choosing a formula that’s both effective and kid-friendly. 

Look for sunscreens with a high SPF to ensure ample protection against UVB rays, ideally SPF 30 or higher. But SPF isn’t the only factor; broad-spectrum coverage is crucial for guarding against UVA rays as well. You can also opt for formulations that are gentle on young skin, such as mineral-based sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are often a good choice as they are less likely to cause irritation. Also, consider the water resistance of the sunscreen, especially if your child loves water play or sweats during sports.

Finally, if your child has sensitive skin, fragrance-free and hypoallergenic sunscreen options are available that minimize the risk of skin reactions. They’re also less likely to object to sunscreens that have no scent or are scented with kids in mind.

3. Make sunscreen application fun and engaging.

For kids, the act of applying sunscreen can seem like a boring chore. Turning it into a fun and engaging activity can change their perspective. One way to do this is by turning sunscreen application into a game – create a catchy song about sun safety or a little dance routine to perform while applying it.

You can also use colorful, kid-friendly sunscreen sticks that they can draw on their skin with, turning protection into play. Letting them choose their own sunscreen – perhaps one with their favorite cartoon character on the bottle – can also give them a sense of ownership and excitement about the process.

For older kids, teaching them to apply it themselves under your supervision can foster a sense of independence and responsibility. Remember, the goal is to associate sunscreen with fun and positivity, making it something they look forward to rather than avoid.

4.  Use sunscreen as part of your daily routine.

In other words, don’t just slather them up with sunscreen on sunny days or while on vacation. Make sunscreen application into their morning routine, just like brushing teeth or combing hair. Having a set time each day for sunscreen, such as before leaving for school or playtime, helps solidify it as a regular activity.

Leading by example plays a significant part in this process. When children see their parents applying sunscreen regularly, they understand its importance and are more likely to follow suit. Make it a family affair where everyone applies sunscreen together, reinforcing the message that sun protection is for everyone, regardless of age.

Using visual reminders can also be effective. Place the sunscreen bottle next to other daily-use items, like their toothbrush or backpack, as a visual cue. For younger children, colorful stickers or charts can serve as fun reminders and can even be used to track their sunscreen application, turning it into a rewarding habit. By consistently integrating sunscreen into your child’s daily routine and making it a family practice, it becomes as natural and essential as any other part of their day.

5. Overcome resistance with patience and solutions.

If you come away with just one tip, we hope it’s this one.  When children resist sunscreen application, it’s crucial to understand that they, just like adults, have their distinct likes and dislikes. For a child, the texture or scent of sunscreen, or even the time it takes to apply, can be a significant source of discomfort. Unlike adults who might overlook these minor annoyances, children often feel and express these discomforts more strongly.

Talk to your child about why they don’t like the sunscreen and look for ways to address the reasons. If a child doesn’t like the greasy feel of a lotion, explore alternatives like sprays or gel-based sunscreens that might be more comfortable for them. If they hate the smell, fragrance-free options are a great solution. Letting them choose their own sunscreen, perhaps one with a fun design or their favorite character on it, can also make them more willing to use it.

Keeping Sun Safe All Year Around 

Even for many adults, getting into the habit of daily sunscreen can be a challenge. Just do your best to help your kids create good habits that will set them up for a lifetime of healthy skin. If you have any concerns about your child’s skin or need further advice, check in with your dermatologist. They can also offer their expert advice and experience to keep your little ones safe and sound, no matter the weather.