How should I use sunscreen to protect my young children?

March 25, 2023 | 04:37 pm PT
My family is going to have a beach vacation. Should I use sunscreen on my two children - who are only 4 months old and 6 months old? (Han, 35, from HCMC)


Sunburn can cause permanent skin damage, increasing the risk of developing skin cancer. Children with darker skin tones may experience greater sun exposure than kids with fairer skin. Skin damage can also be seen in sunburn. In order to protect itself from UV light damage, the skin produces more pigment.

Teaching children how to protect themselves from the sun from an early age helps them form good habits to protect their skin later. However, it is important to use age-appropriate sunscreen.

Avoid applying sunscreen on babies under 6 months old since their ratio of skin area to body weight is higher than in older children and adults. This means that your child will be exposed to more chemicals in the cream, which can increase the risk of unwanted reactions.

It's best not to expose children under 6 months to direct sunlight, let them stay in the shade as much as possible, especially at midday when UV radiation is strongest. In cases where it is imperative to apply cream, only apply it on small areas of skin such as the cheeks and back of hands.

When outdoors, children older than six months old should wear comfortable clothing, a hat with a wide brim that protects their ears and the back of their neck, and sunglasses. Children who swim ought to wear clothing made of UV-protective materials.

To lower the risk of allergies, pick a sunscreen with strong UVA and SPF protection that is fragrance-free. Products that are marketed as "long-lasting" or "used once a day" should not be trusted.

Skin-applied creams can wash off. So, regardless of the cream you use, it should be reapplied as often as every two hours, especially after exercising, swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel.

Try different types of sun screen to see which one works best for your child. Maybe your child prefers a spray type or a stick type. Using colored sunscreen may also help you detect skin areas that you miss.

To make sunscreen usage a more fun activity for your child, you can apply it while your child listens to his or her favorite song. Use the cream to write a word, or picture on his or her skin and let your child guess which that is. Another game you can use is the "connecting the dots" game - putting cream dots on his or her face and letting your child connect these dots.

When children play outdoors, you should pay attention to areas that are easy to miss, such as ears, backs of feet, and hands. Fifteen minutes after the first application, apply sunscreen again to cover any spots that you might have missed.

Wishing you and your family a happy and safe beach vacation.

Dr Tran Ngoc Phuong

Skin Cosmetology Department, Ho Chi Minh City Hospital of Dermatology

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