The sun’s high in the sky and your children are in vacation heaven, splashing and running around outside for hours on end. Meanwhile, you’re worrying about sunburns and chapped lips. Relax! Adults and kids need a healthy dose of sun every day, and there are easy, all-natural ways protect precious dermis.
“Kids need sunscreens with fewer harsh or irritating chemicals than adult products because their skin is more sensitive and absorbent,” says Sonya Lunder, senior analyst with the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and mother of a 3-year-old. It’s especially important to avoid sunscreens with the chemical oxybenzone, she points out, which can disrupt the body’s hormone system. Because children’s skin tends to produce less oil than that of adults, though, kids can tolerate a greasier product. The EWG recommends lotions with physical, mineral-based screens that block damaging UVA and UVB rays in the morning. “Products with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide don’t penetrate skin the way chemical blocks do, so you don’t have to worry about chemical toxicity,” Lunder says. Tempting though they may be, don’t fall for sunscreen–bug repellent combo products—even if they’re all natural. “Even physical sunscreens often contain penetration enhancers that can lead to more absorption of the pesticide,” says Lunder. “With these mixed products, you’re doubling up the chemical exposure, when it’s unlikely you’re going to need them both at the same time of day.”
“We recommend that people who are going to spend time in intense sunlight use SPF 30 and reapply often,” says Lunder. That’s especially important for kidlets because sunburns sustained early in life are linked to increased melanoma risk later in life. Similarly, most people use too little sunscreen per application. The rule of thumb is to use at least 1 ounce for an adult body and only slightly less for a smaller person, according to the FDA. Reapply every two hours, and always after swimming or exertion. “Forgetting to reapply is a major reason why people end up getting sunburned even though they think they’re wearing sunscreen,” says Lunder.
Because natural sunscreens can be thick and sit on top of the dermis, they often give skin a whitish palor. But usually if parents show that they don’t mind the white look, neither will kids. “Adults are a little more self-conscious about zinc’s white residue, but kids don’t seem to care at all,” says Lunder. “My son might look like a little ghost when he’s running around, but as long as I don’t make it a big deal, he seems to be fine with it.” If you do encounter sunscreen resistance from your child, let her help rub it in, and apply it to yourself at the same time. Make it a nonnegotiable daily habit—the constancy will make it less of a fight.
In March 2009, the Archives of Internal Medicine reported that Americans’ vitamin D levels have dropped precipitously during the past two decades. Given that sufficient amounts of the “sunshine vitamin” correlate to bone health, immunity, lower risk of heart disease, and cancer-risk reduction, it’s important to be sure you and your kids get enough. According to a 2007 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, “exposure of arms and legs for 5 to 30 minutes (depending on time of day, season, latitude, and skin pigmentation) between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. twice a week is often adequate.” If you’re not getting enough rays, consider supplements. Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recently doubled the recommended daily dose of vitamin D for children and teens to 400 IU (equivalent to the amount in 4 cups of milk) per day, Robert Rountree, MD, Delicious Living’s medical editor recommends 1,000 IU per day for healthy kids. “After reading many papers on the safety of vitamin D, I’m convinced that 1,000–2,000 IU is quite safe for kids and is much more likely to be beneficial than lower doses.”
Your little one’s kisser needs sun protection, too. “Again, zinc would be best,” says Lunder. But you don’t need an SPF product unless you’re out in the sun, so have one lip balm ready for outdoor time and another for general moisturizing needs. Balms made from real food and found-in-nature ingredients, such as olive oil, aloe vera, and beeswax, get the safe-for-kids nod.
If your or your child’s skin is parched from swimming or excess sun, consider replenishing moisture with pure, organic cocoa butter, virgin coconut oil, or organic extra-virgin olive oil. All can be applied to kids’ skin with zero risk. And don’t forget to encourage your child to drink lots of water, which hydrates skin from the inside out.