Children and sun – Practical information for parents

Most parents know that it is important to be careful when going out in the sun with their children – at least in theory. But in practice, it is often a struggle to get children to put sunscreen on, play in the shade or wear a sun hat. We have put together some ideas that might help you make sun protection part of your everyday routine.

Sunscreen can prevent painful sunburn. This alone is a good enough reason to protect children from too much sun. Sunscreen is particularly helpful if it is not possible to use other kinds of sun protection, such as shade or clothing. But a lot of children do not like having sunscreen put on. Many kick and scream until you feel like giving up. The following ideas might help make things easier:

  • Routine: Make putting sunscreen on a part of your routine, for instance whenever you leave the house or whenever you are in a certain place.
  • Play: Put dots on your child’s skin or draw a picture with the sunscreen before rubbing it in.
  • Sunscreen competition: The first person to finish putting their sunscreen on can go outside or into the water first.
  • Child-friendly design: Use sunscreen specifically designed for children, for example with colorful pictures on the packaging. Colored or nice-smelling sunscreens might help too.
  • Sprays instead of lotions: Children might find sprays more fun.
  • Parents first: Put your own sunscreen on first. A lot of children like to copy what other people do.

How can I get my child to stay in the shade?

Children are more likely to stay in the shade if they can play there. This may mean taking them to an attractive play area in the shade, or creating a new one. You may find a shady playground – then the sun protection problem will solve itself. If not, you could put a paddling pool under a tree, or something else for them to play with. If you can’t find any natural shade, a sunshade, parasol or big umbrella can help.

Sometimes children are happy to take it a bit slower around noontime, when the sun is particularly intense. Then you could do a quiet activity like reading a book to them in the shade. If their need for movement is too strong, though, a hat and clothing will offer additional protection.

How can you encourage children to keep their hats and clothes on?

Hats and caps provide good protection from the sun, especially for the face. Nevertheless, many children tend to take them off their heads. They often take their clothes off too because most children like being naked. The following tips might help here:

  • Choosing their own hat: If children are allowed to choose their own hat, they will often be happier to wear it. A broad rim and cover for the back of the neck provide the best protection.
  • Well-fitting hat: In very young children, tying the hat is often the only thing that helps. In older children, well-fitting sun hats or caps will be less likely to fall off when they are jumping about.
  • Clothes with built-in sun protection: If you’re going to the beach or swimming outdoors, your child can wear special functional clothing that can also be worn in water. It dries quickly and means you don’t have to put sunscreen on the skin that it covers.
  • Choosing their own clothes: Long-sleeved T-shirts, trousers and dresses might be more attractive if they are thought of as pirate, fairy or fireman clothes. Darker and more closely woven fabrics provide better protection, as do clothes made out of polyester or denim fabric (jeans).

What else is there to know?

It is easy to think of everyone and everything, but forget about yourself. Children are very aware of whether or not their parents use sun protection. Mothers and fathers can set a good example here.

And despite all the concerns about their wellbeing: Children want to play and move about – if possible without any restrictions. It is almost impossible to stop them from being exposed to a little too much sun every now and then. Although you might feel bad if your child does get a sunburn, it is not the end of the world, as long as you are generally careful in the sun. As is often the case with children, a relaxed attitude also helps when it comes to sun exposure.

Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz (BfS). UV-Schutz für die Haut. 25.02.2015.

Lautenschlager S, Wulf HC, Pittelkow MR. Photoprotection. Lancet 2007; 370(9586): 528-537.

Lorenc T, Jamal F, Cooper C. Resource provision and environmental change for the prevention of skin cancer: systematic review of qualitative evidence from high-income countries. Health Promot Int 2013; 28(3): 345-356.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

Updated on August 26, 2015
Next planned update: 2018

Authors/Publishers:

Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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