Planning a holiday? Gearing up for a summer filled with swimming lessons and camps for the kids? You’ll likely find yourself in the sunscreen aisle of your favorite discount retailer, stymied by the many options before you. What sunscreen is best for your kids? Is SPF 70 really necessary? If you’re taking the risk of sun-related exposure seriously (and we hope you are), you’ll be comparing bottles, ingredients, SPF levels, prices, water resistance, etc.

When making sunscreen decisions, the best sunscreen is one that you’ll use

As parents, we’re all familiar with the struggle to lather sunscreen on squirming toddlers. We’ve accidentally gotten it in their eyes. We’ve missed parts of their precious baby-skin and felt incredible guilt when that skin turns red and sore in the sun. I think this is the attraction of aerosol sunscreens. Anything that speeds that battle and protects our kids seems like a good idea. The trouble with aerosol sunscreens (and the FDA is looking into this) is that we can’t really measure how much sunscreen gets on our bodies. So parents, we recommend you wrestle thick layers of sunscreen on your kids before sending them outdoors. If you’re sending your kid to camp for the day, slipping an aerosol can into their backpacks might encourage reapplication. The best sunscreen is one that they’ll use.

Just how often do you need to reapply sunscreen? Regardless of the SPF level, and the marketing promises of water and sweat resistance, you should reapply sunscreen every two hours. Sunscreen wears off in water, due to sweat, or just soaks into the skin. At First Derm’s recent skin screening event in San Francisco, we partnered with Sunscreen Bands, which we think should be the accessory on your child’s arm in Summer 2014. Sunscreen Bands take the guesswork out of sunscreen reapplication. Parents apply sunscreen to the skin and the band, which is worn as a bracelet. The band changes color to remind users when it’s time to reapply sunscreen, and also when it’s time to get out of the sun.

What’s SPF and does it matter? SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a measurement of the UVB protection the cream offers. If you use SPF 50, you can expect it to filter out about 98% of UVB rays for two hours. The difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is minimal, but save dressing our kids in wool from head-to-toe and then encasing them in bubble wrap, most parents opt for the higher SPF. Dermatologists recommend using broad spectrum sunscreens with SPFs of at least 30.

Worried about chemicals in sunscreens? If you have a baby under 6 months, you should apply sunscreen sparingly, and only to exposed body parts and the face. It’s better to use physical barrier sunscreens with titanium or zinc oxides, light clothing, hats, umbrellas, shades, etc. If your child has sensitive skin or develops a rash, talk with your pediatrician about your options. Skin cancer kills more people than all other forms of cancer, combined. Parents must recognize that even bubble wrap can’t protect their kids from everything: what we can do is protect them from getting sunburnt. Getting just 5 sunburns doubles one’s chance of developing skin cancer. Check out another partner in our skin screening event, Blue Lizard sunscreen if you’re looking for a sunscreen for a specific skin type.

Bottom line: The best sunscreen is one you’ll use

Parents want the very best for their kids. We want them to grow up with healthy radiant skin. But mostly, we want them to grow old – cancer free. Any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen: the best sunscreen is one you’ll use, one your children will use, according to the directions, every day.

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