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sun safety

Ask the Pediatrician: Tips for keeping kids safe in the sun

Q&A with a doctor about sunscreen and other ways to prevent sunburn.

Sun safety: With the sun making an appearance again in our area, what’s the best way to keep our children safe? Kaiser Permanente Pediatrician Susanna Block, MD, takes questions from parents.

What’s the safest sunscreen?

The safest sunscreen is the one you use. It is medically supported that applying sunblock regularly can protect your children from skin cancer later in life. If you’re concerned about chemical ingredients in sunscreens, you can always opt for a mineral-based sunscreen. The most effective ones use zinc oxide as the active ingredient. With any sunscreen, it’s only safe if you apply it evenly and often — including after sweating, swimming, or toweling off.

At what age can you start to use sunscreen?

We recommend applying a sunscreen to babies 6 months of age and older. Younger than six months you should keep your baby in the shade or covered with clothing with SPF protection/

How often do you need to reapply sunscreen to ensure sun safety?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends applying one ounce of sunblock every 2 hours. That’s a lot — a shot glass full! Really, a family should easily go through a bottle of sunblock on a sunny day in the park. Don’t forget to apply 30 minutes before going out in the sun to make sure it will give you the protection you need.

And let me just mention the spray sunscreens for a minute: I don’t recommend them because you can get very uneven coverage and the sunscreen can end up in eyes and mouths.  That said, though, the safest sunscreen is the one you use. If your kiddo will not let you apply the traditional way, spray is certainly better than nothing.

What are other ways to protect kids from sun damage?

Even better than sunblock is avoiding sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or covering up with sun-safe clothing. Big floppy hats, rash-guard tops, longer shorts — these are all great ways to keep your kids safe. And don’t forget sunglasses!

What’s the best way to treat a sunburn?

The best is to avoid sunburn! But if your child should get a sunburn, here’s what to do: If your child’s skin is red, warm, and painful, you can treat it with a cool bath or some cold compresses. A little children’s ibuprofen, in the correct dosage for your child’s weight/age, can help too. If the sunburn causes illness (fever, chills, headache) or if it blisters, call your care team for advice.

Dr. Block practices in Seattle, seeing patients in clinic and in urgent care.

Ask the Pediatrician

What questions do you have? Parents, here’s a chance to get your child-health-related questions answered by an expert. Leave them in the comments field in this article, or email directly to We’ll answer some of them in a future monthly issue of Ask the Pediatrician.

This story was originally published in June 2019.

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About the Author

Susanna Block, MD