‘Frost Them Like Cupcakes’ and Tricks for Getting Sunscreen on Kids

The first thing I do when I head to the beach or pool is to find a shady spot. That’s because I’ve already applied the sunscreen at home and scoping out shade is the next step in protecting myself from the sun’s “devil rays.” I wasn’t always a sun-phobe. I became sun-phobic once I got smart and started to learn about the damage sun can do — from wrinkles to cancer. Plus, my husband is allergic to the sun (really — “devil rays” is a direct quote), so his meticulous lathering of the sunscreen has rubbed off on me (har har).

I cringe now thinking of the hours I spent in the sun trying to get a tan. Sure, it looked good, but — so much older and wiser now — I prefer the pale-and-healthy look to the tanned. I also remember the sunburns I got as a youth and am trying my darndest to make sure my kids know how important sunscreen is. I must say we’ve done fairly well; they’ll remind us if we’ve headed outside and forgotten the sunscreen. I’ve already bought my second two-pack of sunscreen at our wholesale club and it’s only June! My kids (and I’m sure yours) are super wiggly when it comes to sunblock. I can’t remember where I read it, but I’ve been telling them that I need to “frost them like cupcakes” to get the job done. It at least gets a smile on their faces as I try to cover them.

I wrote previously about how spray sunscreen saved my sanity — but unfortunately it was short-lived. While it is super convenient and easy to apply, my son’s eyes burn and water whenever we use it and other chemical sunscreens. We’ve had to resort to physical blockers instead, which require a bit more manual labor. When I received these sunscreen tips from Dr. Julia Tzu, a dermatologist at Wall Street Dermatology, I asked her about this and other tips she might have for getting sunscreen on wiggly kids. Read on!


Is there anything in particular one should look for in a sunscreen for kids? How about an athlete who sweats? Because kids are often very active and may not reapply sunscreens as vigilantly as adults, using a sunscreen that has a higher water resistance rating may be useful. Also, I personally like sunscreens with mostly or exclusively physical blockers because they can be less irritating than chemical sunscreens.

For the athlete who sweats, you can try sunscreen sticks on the face, which come off less easily, or sunscreens with a water resistance of 80 minutes instead of 40 minutes.

Anything that can make sunscreen application easier for kids? Sprays are often easy ways to apply sunscreen. The problem is that sprays can easily result in uneven application and also need to be applied in a well-ventilated area and away from the face to prevent ventilation. Use of spray sunscreens may be controversial in children. The easiest way to kids to apply sunscreen is really the old fashioned way. Get a sunscreen bottle that’s easy to squeeze and smooth enough for easy manual application.

My son’s eyes water with certain sunscreens. Is he allergic to an ingredient? Make sure that the sunscreen is not getting into your eyes and causing irritation. This is common for people exercising and sweating with sunscreen on. Allergic reactions to sunscreens often presents as an itchy rash on the skin.

What should we look for in a sunscreen? Broad spectrum, SPF greater or equal to 30 is always ideal. I like physical blocker sunscreens (ones that contain only zinc oxide or titanium dioxide), as opposed to chemical sunscreens, because it is more compatible for people with sensitive skin.

Tips for Sunscreen Use

Use sunscreen daily. How “sunny” the day appears is not a reliable indicator of the incoming UV radiation exposure. Hence, UV radiation can be present in high levels even on an overcast, rainy day.

Aim high. When choosing a sunscreen, look for a high SPF (sun protection factor). SPF of at least 30, which blocks out 97% of the UVB, is typically recommended for everyday usage. A higher SPF may be recommended for outdoor activities.

Broad strokes. Always look for “broad spectrum” on the SPF label as an indicator of protection against UV-A and UV-B, both of which contribute to skin aging and skin cancer.

Shoot it. Generally, a shot glass (approximately two tablespoons) amount of sunscreen is sufficient for the average person.

Apply and re-apply. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, then reapplied every two hours especially for outdoor activities. For outdoor activities that involve water exposure, look for the “water resistant” label that indicates the duration, typically 40 or 80 minutes, of sun protection while exposed to water.

A big thanks to Dr. Tzu for the tips. I religiously follow the “shot glass” rule and probably go overboard with my liberal application, hence the buying-in-bulk habit. Better safe than sorry!

Are you a helicopter parent when it comes to sunscreen?Erin


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