SPF Levels for Kids

Dr. Tina Liao, MD is a Banner Children's physician at Banner Health Center in Gilbert. For more information on this topic, talk with your doctor or call Dr. Liao’s office at 480-649-6600.

Question: What SPF level of sunscreen should I use on my child?

Answer: SPF stands for sun protection factor and measures the amount of time - in theory - you can stay in the sun without risking sunburn. For example, a sunscreen with SPF 15 implies you could stay in the sun 15 times longer than without any protection. However, relying only on SPF for sun protection is risky because sunscreen is less effective if applied unevenly or infrequently, if it washes away from swimming or perspiration, if you are taking medication that increases sun sensitivity, or if your skin is very fair.

Children 6 months and older should use a sunscreen with at least SPF 15, though higher is preferable. Higher SPF formulas filter more harmful rays than lower formulas. The sunscreen should also be labeled "broad spectrum," meaning it shields against both UVA and UVB rays. Also, UVA protection is now ranked on a scale of 1 to 4 stars; the more stars on the sunscreen’s label, the better the formula defends against UVA rays.

For areas prone to sunburn, like the nose, cheeks, ears and shoulders, choose sun protection that has zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as a main ingredient. These products often come in bright colors, so kids can have fun wearing them while getting stronger protection.

Babies under 6 months should be kept away from direct sunlight, dressed in protective clothing and shaded using an umbrella or stroller canopy. Use sunscreen on an infant's sensitive skin only if other protection is unavailable.

Sunscreen should be applied liberally and again every two hours or following water play or exercise. Along with sunscreen, wearing hats and protective clothing and avoiding the outdoors during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. will improve overall sun protection.

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