10 Sun Safety Tips For Families

Summer is a time for relaxing and enjoying the warm rays of sunshine, but without proper protection, sun damage can cause a lot of pain and worse, skin cancer. Mighty Mommy has 10 tips to keep your family safe in the sun.

Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #237

10 Sun Safety Tips For Families

School’s out and the long, hot days of summer are here for those of us living in North America. This means families will be spending a lot more time outdoors enjoying the beach, the park, the pool, or just hanging out in the backyard. 

See also: How to Enjoy Summer Vacation Without Losing Your Mind

We’ve all heard the advice about protecting our skin from the harsh rays of the sun, but all too often we hurry out the door and forget to pack the sunscreen and other precautionary items like hats and even sunglasses. With melanoma the fastest growing cancer in the United States, Mighty Mommy has 10 tips to keep you and your family safe in the sun this summer.>

Tip #1: Plan Ahead

Don’t get caught empty-handed when it comes to having sunscreen and other important protective items on hand. Look for sales at the beginning of the summer and stock up on sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher, in addition to beach hats and sun protective clothing.  Mighty Mommy keeps an extra tote bag in the car with such items so we’re never without. In addition, I make up small bags for my teens to stash in their backpacks and their cars so they are always prepared and can share with their friends.

#2: Know Your Sunscreen

There are two types of UV light that can harm your skin — UVA and UVB. Check out this  report by the Mayo Clinic for more info. UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkling and age spots, while UVB rays can burn your skin. Too much exposure to UVA or UVB rays can cause skin cancer. The best sunscreen offers protection from all UV light. 

Theoretically, the best sunscreen should be the one with the highest SPF, which is a measure of how well the sunscreen deflects UV rays. Manufacturers calculate SPF based on how long it takes to sunburn skin that's been treated with the sunscreen as compared with skin that hasn't been treated with sunscreen. 

In reality, it's not that simple. When applied correctly, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 will provide only slightly more protection than a sunscreen with an SPF of 15. The SPF 30 product is actually not twice as protective as the SPF 15 product. Sunscreens with SPFs greater than 50 provide only a small increase in UVB protection. 

See also: House Call Doctor’s Tips on Skin Cancer

Also, keep in mind that sunscreen is often not applied thoroughly or thickly enough and it might be washed off during swimming or sweating. As a result, even the best sunscreen might be less effective than the SPF number on the bottle would lead you to believe. Rather than focusing on SPF, choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 that will protect you from UVA and UVB rays.

Tip #3: Apply Sunscreen Properly

You don't need to hide from the sun completely or wrap up like a mummy to protect yourself. But you should remember that sunscreen isn’t a magical permanent coating that will protect you all day long. To get the maximum out of your sunscreen, apply it at least 15 minutes prior to going out in the sun. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm, so during that time reapply at least every 2 hours just to be safe and more often if you’ve been swimming or sweating a lot, even if the sunscreen is waterproof. 

Be sure to put sunscreen all over your body. This includes some places you might not think of, like the tops of your ears, the back of your neck, the part in your hair, your face, and the tops of your feet. You may need some help reaching everywhere, so ask friends or family members to give you a hand. If you want to block the sun's rays, wear clothing that you can't see your hand through. Sheer fabrics can let in the sun’s rays and you may still get burned, so choose thicker weaves.

Tip #4: Wear a Hat

In addition to using sunscreen, a hat is a great way to get extra sun protection, especially for those too young for routine sunscreen use.  According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for the maximum sun protection, wear a hat with a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. A tightly woven fabric, such as canvas, works best to protect your skin from UV rays. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. A darker hat may offer more UV protection. If you wear a baseball cap, you should also protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas, using sunscreen with at least SPF 30, or by staying in the shade. There are many different brand name hats for kids that provide wonderful UV protection. Mighty Mommy loves sungrubbies.com for kid’s sunhats. Also, keep in mind that baseball caps and visors provide only limited sun protection and no protection for your child's neck so don’t forget sunscreen for exposed and delicate areas.

Tip #5: Wear Sunglasses

Sunglasses are an important way to help protect your child's eyes from sun damage.  The best sunglasses for kids should block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays and wrap around your child's temples. Besides that, they’re super cool and if you get your young child used to wearing them now, he’ll likely make it a habit and want to wear them throughout his tween and teen years.

Tip #6: Wear Sun Protective Clothing

Dressing your kids in sun-protective clothing or light, long-sleeved tees and slacks will help protect the skin from UV rays, although on a hot day, let’s face, it no kid wants to swelter in extra layers. For better protection, there is specially designed sun-protection clothing with an SPF of 15 to 50, and you can also wear clothing washed with a laundry additive like Sun Guard, which can increase the SPF of clothing.

Babies, however, should be kept out of the sun whenever possible and if they have to be out, dress them up in clothes that cover them fully. When choosing clothing for sun protection, be sure to dress small kids in:

  • lightweight, loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts, pants, or long skirts

  • tightly-woven fabrics in dark colors

  • clothes made with wool or synthetic materials such as polyester

Remember, though: Clothing isn't usually a substitute for sunscreen. Choosing clothing that provides good sun protection, in combination with the proper use of sunscreen, can ensure that your child gets the best sun protection possible.

Tip #7: Drink Up 

Drinking water is an important part of staying healthy, especially when it's hot outside. When you're sweating you lose water that your body needs to work properly, and if you're playing a sport or running around in the sun, you lose even more water, because you sweat that much more. 

So encourage your kids to drink up and don't wait until they’re thirsty — drinking before you feel thirsty helps keep the water level in your body from dropping too low which can cause dehydration.  There are lots of cool-looking water bottles around, so let your kids pick out one that they really like, fill it up, and get them in the habit of drinking up! 

See also: Nutrition Diva’s Tips on How Much Water You Should Drink

Tip #8: Prevent Heat Exhaustion

When you or your family are out in the hot sun or are exercising on a hot day, it's easy to get heat exhaustion. Kids get heat exhaustion when their bodies can't cool themselves fast enough. A kid with heat exhaustion might feel overheated, tired, and weak.

See also: The Dangers of Hyperthermia

Heat exhaustion can come on suddenly causing a person to just collapse.  It can leave someone feeling really tired for days after it happens.   On really hot days, limit the time your kids are actively moving outdoors and make sure they take breaks for water, frozen fruit pops, ice cold watermelon, or to just chill out in the shade or inside with a puzzle or a book.

Tip #9: Teach Sun Safety

Help kids learn why staying safe in the sun is important. Once they know the facts, chances are they’ll be the ones reminding you to slather on sunscreen!  Kids in grade school are already learning about the devastating effects of melanoma such as:

  • The American Cancer Society estimates that the risk of developing invasive melanoma in the United States is 1 in 41 for men and 1 in 61 for women. This averages out to approximately a 1 in 50 chance of developing melanoma throughout your lifetime. 

  • The incidence of people under 30 developing melanoma is increasing faster than any other demographic group, soaring by 50% in young women since 1980. 

Tip #10: Learn to Love the Shade

Of course fun in the sun is nice but it’s also important to give children plenty of shady options to choose from. Schedule indoor games, puzzle play, craft activities, and reading hour during the time when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Even when outdoors, encourage children to build a fort using a large umbrella or making a canopy out of old sheets. Teaching them to find respite from the sun at a young age will instill this valuable lesson for years to come.

How do you protect your family from too much sun? Share your thoughts in the comment section or post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MightyMommy or e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com.  Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT

The good news is that the sun doesn't have to be your enemy if you wear your sunscreen, drink your water, and take breaks when you start to feel too hot, so arm yourself with all the precautions against too much sun, have fun with your family and until next time…happy parenting!

SPF and Hat image from Shutterstock

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.