Sun Protection Strategies for Kids

Ladies, let’s talk about sun protection strategies for kids — do you sunscreen them up before daycare or school? Only if told to, either by policy or special direction?

I was just thinking about this a week or so ago: does anyone else feel guilty if your kid gets a farmer’s tan, i.e. bronzed forearms and lily white upper arms? I have my own anti-sun agenda, but I feel particularly, perhaps excessively, protective of my fair-haired, pale-skinned boys. We all wear rash guards and sun hats whenever we’re outside, and no one’s gotten burned yet (which is good because multiple childhood sunburns greatly increase your risk for melanoma). Still, their forearms are all deeply tan right now, and I feel guilty, like I’m not doing enough to protect them. So let’s hear it, ladies: Do you slather your kids with sunscreen every day? Do you get their ears and neck and forearms, or just, say, their nose and cheeks? What do you use yourself, and what do you use on your kids?

For my $.02, I’m kind of odd for myself: I just bought some tank tops so that if I go out on a 20-minute walk I can get some vitamin D and avoid a farmer’s tan, but I’m also that weirdo on the beach with the long-sleeved rash guard, huge hat, and probably a too-white face because I haven’t blended my serious mineral sunscreen. With my kids, if I know they’ll be out in the sun for 30 minutes or more, I sunscreen the heck out of them — but on the flip side, if I’m not expecting a lot of sun exposure, I just send them out with hats.

How about you guys? Are you serious about sunscreen for your kids and/or yourself? Which products are your favorites? Are you a fan of any particular brand of rash guards or hats?

Image source: Stencilsun protection strategies for kids - image of sun and blue skies


What are the best sun protection strategies for kids in daycare, camps, school and more? Do you lather them up every day or only when directed? Working moms discuss which products they like and how they protect their kids from the sun.


  1. EB0220 says:

    Oh! Good topic. Husband and I, and kids, are all fair but tan quickly. We always wear sunscreen or a rashguard at the pool (unless it’s evening and the pool is shady). For day to day, I think I manage sunscreen about 80% of the time in the summer. At the very least I try to get their faces. No burns yet. I started doing the BabyGanics face stick or ThinkBaby on their faces and then Alba spray on the rest of their bodies (it is the best ranked spray, so I am assuaging my guilt). I try to get both of the girls to wear hats, and succeed maybe 50% of the time. In certain cases, they love to wear them (camping trips, hiking) but at school and camp it’s a tough go.

  2. Spirograph says:

    I’m pale and burn easily. My husband almost never burns, and my kids seem to have his skin. I routinely send my kids to school in the morning without sunscreen. They usually don’t get more than an hour or two of outdoor time before lunch, and the outdoor play space is mostly shaded. Infants are hats-required, older kids are hats-optional and I know my kids opt out. Teachers “re”apply sunscreen after lunch. At home, I’ll put sunscreen on kids’ faces, necks, and shoulders/arms before sending them out to play on the weekends, make them wear a hat if we’re walking to the playground or anywhere else we’re likely to be in full sun for an extended time, and we have rashguards for the pool. Our yard has a lot of shade and honestly, I’m much more worried about adequate bug protection than adequate sun protection. My kids haven’t burned yet, and don’t even look particularly tan, so I’m calling this good enough for now.

  3. I have fair-skinned kids who tan easily, just like their parents. I don’t worry as much about farmer tans, to be honest. I realize it’s still technically skin damage, but as long as they’re not actually sunburned, I feel like we’re winning. They are outside frequently, and it is not realistic to avoid a tan, even with sunscreen. Heck, I work indoors 8 hours a day, and I still have bronze shoulders, arms, and legs from being outside the weekends — with sunscreen. Frankly, I’m not willing to keep my kids indoors more because I think there are so many mental/physical benefits to being outdoors. Many of our family’s hobbies involve water sports and outdoorsy activities.

    When we go swimming, our routine is to do sunscreen from head to toe, plus rashguards when we’re swimming from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For regular weekend play, we put on sunscreen in the morning, plus hats and sunglasses. Sunscreen gets reapplied every few hours.

    There is a history of skin cancer in my family so I am very conscientious about protecting my kids, but I also don’t think there is a perfect solution, short of staying inside all the time.

    • farrleybear says:

      This. My kiddo is very fair, with auburn hair, but he loves to be outside. I try to steer him to the shade when I can, and require him to wear rashguard and hat when in the pool unless it’s overcast. And lots of sunscreen! But I agree that there’s no perfect solution for avoiding some level of sun damage.

  4. Every morning we coat my three year old in sunscreen, and then bug spray (he gets eaten alive by mosquitoes, and then the bites turn to huge painful welts). He also wears a hat when out in the sun, and if swimming, he wears a sun shirt. At school they reapply sunscreen and bug spray before they go outside, and he wears his big sun hat to protect his head. For my baby, we keep him covered, and in a sun hat. I keep him in the shade as much as I can, and if not then he’s covered by a pop up sun protection tent or a light blanket and an umbrella. We are obsessive over sun protection, and our kids haven’t suffered a sunburn.

    • My son is super reactive to mosquitoes too! It’s awful. And bug repellent doesn’t seem to make much of a dent. He has 10x the number of bites as the rest of the family
      We give him Zyrtec daily to keep him from scratching/infecting + really expensive bandaids

  5. EP-er says:

    This is the first summer that I haven’t been hyper-religious about sunscreen all the time, reapplied every 90 minutes. My kids are tan and look so healthy! Even though I know it is technically sun damage…. I just can’t get over how long & strong they look with a little color on their legs. We still wear rash guards to the pool & I make sure to get their faces well. We’re total hat/sunglasses people, too…. but I jkind of like the tan!

  6. For babies at the pool, I’m a huge fan of coolibar’s one-piece full body suits. Long sleeves and pants mean you only have to do sunscreen on face and feet! Super easy. They only go up to 24months, though.

  7. Chi Squared says:

    Our nanny is pretty religious about putting sunblock on, fortunately. On weekends, we apply only if the kids will be out for more than half an hour between 11 am – 4 pm. I would like to use hats more, but inevitably forget them. But so far, no burns. But my poor son (16 months) has a definite sandal and farmer tan b/c some of the products we started out using at the beginning of the summer (Badger Kids, Alba spray, Think Baby) were ineffective, or we applied them insufficiently/improperly. Now we’ve switched to a chemical sunscreen – something by Coppertone that was highly rated by Consumer Reports – which seems to work a lot better.

  8. 20 Weeks says:

    I live in Anchorage, Alaska. I mostly worry about sun-in-eyes, so we have kid sunglasses and sunhats. The angle of the sun here doesn’t often produce a tan or burns (on me, husband, or toddler), so I often forego sunscreen.

    Kiddo’s preschool does apply sunscreen (with parent permission, which we gave), so toddler gets it on sunny days when they’re outside.

    While on vacation we did use sunscreen, it’s just not something I think about often.

    Anyone who can link a study about angle of sunlight, vitamin D, and sunscreen would be much appreciated! I worry most about insufficient production of Vitamin D.

  9. Kiddo doesn’t seem to burn easily and hasn’t had a sunburn yet. We put on sunscreen when we’re going spend more than 15-30 minutes in direct sunlight (the pool, beach, zoo, picnic, etc). Kiddo also wears rashguards in the water and will agree to a hat if it’s very sunny. We don’t put on sunscreen for daycare, but the playground there is covered by a large tent. We also don’t tend to put on sunscreen for a walk around the block or playing in the backyard or a quick stop at the park, but we try to keep a hat in the car or diaper bag.

    • I’ll add that we live in a very hot and sunny place in the SE US. During the summer, we specifically look for indoor activities and rarely go outside unless we’re swimming. From mid-September until mid-June, we’re outside much more frequently and for longer periods of time, and we use sunscreen then. Even then, Kiddo still naps, so we tend to be out from 9-11 and 3-6.

  10. Anon in NYC says:

    We apply sunscreen every day to anything that is exposed to the sun (face, arms, legs). I think my husband does a slightly better job than me at it. My daughter basically refuses to wear a hat (although she might wear a baseball hat if I can find one in her size), and she enjoys wearing her sunglasses for a few minutes at a time.

    • Anonymous says:

      Modells’ all have baseball caps in toddler adjustable sizes, if you’re willing to go with a local sports team. It can be cute — my toddler points to adults who are also wearing Mets caps.

  11. AuntE says:

    My blonde 2 yo is fair like me and I want her to learn early the value of protecting your skin, so she gets sunscreen every morning (unless it’s raining.) Daycare asks us to apply in the morning and they will re-apply in the afternoon.
    We both use Blue Lizard sunscreen and I have been amazed — it works! When I use old standby Banana Boat on myself, I get burned, but when I use Blue Lizard, no burn.
    When she was a baby, she wore long sleeve rashguards and boy short bottoms, but this summer, it’s short-sleeve rashguards and bikini bottoms. (My shoulders are testament to teenage suntanning and I don’t want that for her! Plus less surface area to cover with a squirming toddler.)
    She wears a hat and sunglasses for 10 minutes, tops, to my chagrin.

    • Cornellian says:

      Ordering BlueLizard. I’m strawberry haired with blue eyes and a history of pre-cancerous growths, so I’m very careful (at least with my face), but so far have just kept baby out of the sun and purchased a long-sleeve rashguard.

      Will need real sunscreen for an upcoming vacation, though, and he’s past the six month mark now.

    • I haven’t found it more or less effective than other sunscreens but I do think Blue Lizard is much easier to rub in than other mineral based sunscreens I have used.

  12. Anonanonanon says:

    My son is currently in a “day camp” where they swim every day. I force him to wear a long sleeved SPF rash guard, so I just sunscreen his face in the morning, luckily. SPF swim clothing is the way to go for me!

  13. POSITA says:

    We are HUGE fans of one piece “sun suits” with long sleeves and pant legs for swimming and waterplay. They are so much easier than dousing kids in sunblock over and over. I love that I don’t have to worry about sun protection wearing off.

  14. DH, kiddo, and I are all of the fair skinned-burn easily variety. Kiddo gets sunscreen (Babyganics right now) on her face, neck and anything exposed before school in the mornings and before going outside on the weekend. School does not reapply. School is pretty good about getting her to wear her hat when it’s sunny out (and now she asks for it on the weekends). For swimming, it’s hat plus rash guard for her and DH. I am just about to buy a rashguard and a new wide-brimmed hat for me for an upcoming beach vacation. I have worn sunscreen virtually daily on my face/neck for years, but now realizing that I need to get my arms and exposed chest more.

    Despite these measures kiddo does get a little color, but I figure that this is all so much better than what we all did as kids and that there are still a lot of benefits to being outside.

  15. We are very sun conscious since my husband has had skin cancer 5 times. I’m not so worried about the tan as I am long term sun exposure. We have two boys (4 and 2) and while the older one has more of my Italian skin tone, the little one is very pale. We put sunscreen on them both every day (the physical kind that goes on white–think sport) and preschool reapplies after naps. We apply it everywhere–including hands, face, neck, ears. They also have their own spf lip balms they like to apply. We have invested in several long sleeve wicking shirts (it’s super hot in the summer where we live and there boys are totally fine with these) with spf 50 that they wear everyday (coolibar- they have a good variety of really cool designs). We also religiously put them in wide brim spf hats (coolibar brand). The teachers know they need to wear these outside and they actually really like them. We reward the older one with an m&m if he is wearing it outside when we pick him up to reinforce the behavior. I know it will just be a matter of time before they realize how nerdy these hats are :) but we figure before they worry about that stuff we can lower their exposure as much as possible!

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