Sunscreen Education 101


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With so many types of sunscreens available, it is easy to get overwhelmed at the local drug store. Before you buy a bottle of sunscreen, let’s review some of the basics. Understanding what you might see on sunscreen labels will allow you to choose the right sunscreen for you and your family’s needs.

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What Does UVA and UVB Mean?

Sunlight consists of two types of harmful ultraviolet radiations: UVA and UVB rays.


These types of rays penetrate into the thickest layer of skin and have long-term effects on the skin that lead to premature aging such as wrinkles and age spots.


These types of rays have short-term effects on the skin and are the primary cause of sunburn.

Facts on Sun Protection Factor (SPF)Sunscreen 101 from Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) measures the length of time a sunscreen will prevent your skin from reddening or burning from UVB radiation only. Choosing a higher SPF does not necessarily mean you will have more protection. Adequate protection comes from applying the right amount of sunscreen and ensuring that you reapply throughout the day.

Types of Sunscreen

Sunscreens are available in many forms including gels, lotions, sprays, wipes and powders. The sunscreens made exclusively for infants and children often contain fewer fragrances and chemicals which are less irritating to the skin. When shopping for your sunscreen needs, look for these other specific types of sunscreens:

For the Face

  • Oil and fragrance free
  • Not recommended to use on your child’s body
  • Will not clog pores or irritate your child’s eyes

For Sensitive Skin

  • Hypoallergenic and sometimes free of chemicals
  • Always do a skin patch test on your child before lathering up your child’s entire body

For Outdoors, Sports and Water Activity

  • Water-resistant (label must note in minutes the amount of time in which the product is water resistant; usually between 40-80 minutes).
  • Usually a higher SPF of 45-50+.

Choosing the Right Sunscreen

Before picking out a bottle of sunscreen, make sure it follows the recommendations from the American Academy of Dermatology, which are:

  • Broad-spectrum protection (protects against BOTH UVA and UVB rays)
  • Sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater
  • Water-resistant

When you’re shopping for sunscreen for your family, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. Which sunscreen feels best on my child’s skin?
  2. Known skin allergies or sensitivities?
  3. Which sunscreen is easiest to apply and reapply?
  4. Will my child be doing sports and other activities (swimming, surfing, sun bathing, etc.)

Putting Sunscreen on a Picky Child

Wearing sunscreen is the first line of defense against skin cancer. If your child is picky or gives you a hard time about wearing sunscreen, here are some suggestions:

  • Lead by example. Put sunscreen on yourself to show them it’s important for you (mom and dad) too
  • Allow your child to apply sunscreen on you first and then to themselves
  • Create a fun name for sunscreen like “Super Spray” or “Magic Lotion”
  • Allow them to use a large clean paintbrush to apply sunscreen on their body

I hope this information makes you feel at ease the next time you need to go to the drug store and purchase sunscreen for your family. To further understand the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulations regarding sunscreen, please click here to view my other blog post “Sunscreen Safety: Understanding the FDA’s Requirements.