Simple ways to protect your child's skin this summer.

By Rachel Rabkin
October 05, 2005

Summer is finally here, which means your kids will be spending a lot more time outside. One of the smartest things you can do for their health is to protect them from the sun. The majority of lifetime sun damage occurs before age 18, so establishing good sunscreen habits early on will go a long way toward preventing skin cancer later in life. We asked the experts for their top tips.

Put Sunscreen on Your Baby

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that it's safe to use sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months. So be sure to rub sun-protective lotion on your infant's cheeks, arms, and other exposed areas. But even if you've applied a sunscreen, it's still crucial to keep your baby out of direct sunlight and in the shade as much as possible.

Buy a Hat

The ideal protection: a hat with a two- or three-inch brim that keeps your child's scalp, face, and eyes shielded from the sun.

Get Shady

When you're on the beach, make sure your kids take frequent shade breaks. The sun is most intense from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so you should also consider hitting the beach early in the morning or late in the afternoon instead of at midday.

Be a Smart Shopper

Buy a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 that offers broad-spectrum coverage. That means it protects against UVB rays (which experts used to think were the only harmful rays) as well as against UVA rays (which can also do major damage). To be sure, check the label. The product should contain avobenzone (Parsol 1789), which blocks UVA rays, or titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, both of which block UVA as well as UVB rays. Spray-on sunscreens are fine, but only if you rub them in thoroughly. And don't forget to apply sunscreen to the most overlooked areas-ears, backs of legs, neck, and lips (use a lip balm with SPF 15).

Invest in Sunglasses

The sun can harm the skin around your child's eyes and can damage the cornea, leading to cataracts or macular degeneration. So all children should wear sunglasses. Look for ones that are labeled "100 percent UV protection."

Cover Up

The average white T-shirt has an SPF of about 3, which is not enough to protect against sun damage. A better bet: sun-protective clothing with SPF built right into the fabric (like this SPF Zip Suit by SunSafe). If your child isn't wearing a tee made of sun-protective fabric, apply sunscreen under her shirt.

Reapply Regularly

These stickers are not decoration; they're SunSignals UV Sensors. Put them on your kids, and they'll absorb the sun's rays. When the stickers change color, it's time to reapply sunscreen (about every two hours). Note: Even waterproof sunscreen needs to be reapplied after your child gets wet because it can get rubbed off by a towel.

Do it Daily

The beach isn't the only place where the sun can do damage. You need to think about sun protection when your kids are in the yard?actually, whenever they're outside, even on cloudy days. Slather them with sunscreen at least 20 minutes before they head outdoors so the skin has a chance to absorb the lotion.

Protect Darker Skin

Though children who have fair skin, freckles, and light eyes are at greatest risk of sunburn, dark-skinned kids need sunscreen too. A tan doesn't protect your child from the sun's damaging rays, either?and it's estimated that just two or three blistering sunburns during childhood can double the risk of developing melanoma later on.

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