The Importance of Sun Protection at Every Age
Daily sun protection is essential for the whole family—especially when spending time outdoors. However, it’s important to remember that skin at different ages can have unique needs. This means that the sunscreen products and protective measures you choose may vary slightly between babies, kids, teens, and adults. Here, we’re sharing our top sun protection tips for all stages of life with the help of CeraVe consultant and board-certified dermatologist Dr. Nkem Ugonabo.
Family time often includes picnics, beach days, sporting events, and more—and all of these activities have one thing in common: sun exposure. Everyone wants their family to be healthy, which is why sun protection should always be a top priority. But did you know that sun protection comes in many forms? Your choice of sunscreen products and other protective measures might differ for you versus your baby or teen. (Note: For babies younger than six months, it’s important to consult your pediatrician when choosing a sunscreen product.) Read on to discover some important information about UV protection for every member of the family.
- Mineral (physical) and chemical sun filters are the two types of active ingredients found in sunscreens.
- For children older than six months, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.1
- In general, adults should use a formula that offers broad-spectrum sun protection with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30.
- For the level of sun protection stated on the label, sunscreen must be applied (and reapplied) as directed, especially after swimming or sweating.
- Sunscreen alone is not enough to protect skin from the sun’s harmful rays—additional sun protective measures are needed (such as wearing sun-protective clothing and seeking shade during peak hours).
Understanding the Sun’s Effects on Skin
According to 2020 data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), less than a third of adults regularly apply sunscreen when heading outdoors for an hour or more.2 Data such as this can be especially concerning for board-certified dermatologists like Dr. Nkem Ugonabo, who is well-versed in the harmful effects of sun exposure. ”There is no such thing as a healthy tan,” explains Dr. Ugonabo.
When it comes to the effects of long-term sun exposure on unprotected skin, Dr. Ugonabo warns that, “this can lead to sun damage, which can manifest as an increased risk of skin cancer, worsening of certain skin conditions that are affected by the sun, and premature aging, such as wrinkles and sun spots.”
Prolonged sun exposure may also disrupt your skin’s protective barrier, according to Dr. Ugonabo. “Sun exposure on unprotected skin can have a negative impact on the skin barrier, [potentially] leading to increased irritation, peeling, sensitivity, and inflammation.” These negative effects can impact people of all ages, skin tones, and skin types. “While some skin types may be less likely to burn, this does not mean that their skin is not affected by sun exposure,” says Dr. Ugonabo.
The Importance of Sun Protection at Every Age
Daily UV protection is essential for supporting healthy-looking skin during every stage of life. Practicing sun protection can help reduce UV exposure, lower the risk of skin cancer, and help reduce visible signs of skin damage—including dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles. However, there are a few age-specific considerations to keep in mind. Here’s what you should know when it comes to sun protection for the whole family.
Sun protection for babies and toddlers
Babies have delicate skin that can be especially vulnerable to the damaging effects of the sun. Because of this, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends keeping infants (younger than six months) out of the sun.3 If you do head outdoors with your little one, help protect their skin by keeping them in the shade and dressing them in long-sleeved shirts, pants, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses.
After your baby is about six months old, it’s usually okay to begin applying sunscreen (unless directed otherwise by your pediatrician). For baby’s delicate skin, many dermatologists recommend using a fragrance-free, broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s water-resistant and formulated with mineral-based UV filters (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide). If you have specific questions or concerns about your baby’s skin, consult a pediatrician or pediatric dermatologist.
Sun protection for children and teens
Research shows a strong correlation between sunburns in childhood and the development of skin cancer in adulthood.4 This means that sun protection for kids is highly important, especially if you consider the data that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.5 Additionally, studies have also found that proper sun protection in childhood and adolescence may help reduce accumulated sun damage that can appear as visible skin damage later in life.6
Sunscreen usage is essential for kids and teens, but as any parent knows, it can be hard to get kids to sit still long enough to thoroughly apply it. Establishing good sun protection habits early on can help. Try making sunscreen application a regular part of everyone’s daily routine—just like brushing your teeth—and remember to reapply at least every two hours. Water-resistant, mineral sunscreen formulas with SPF 30 or higher are generally recommended. In addition to sunscreen, covering up when spending time outdoors is another effective way to help protect the skin. This includes wearing a hat, sunglasses, and long-sleeved shirts when you're at the beach or pool.
Sun protection for adults
According to Dr. Ugonabo, it’s never too late to start good sun protection habits. “Many of my [adult] patients regret not wearing sunscreen earlier in life, but I often tell them not to dwell on the past and focus on now and in the future.” Adults should apply (and reapply) broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every day, in addition to other protective measures.
Sunscreen for adults
There are a wide range of sunscreen formulas for adults to choose from—including mineral sunscreens, chemical sunscreens, and even hybrid sunscreens that combine both types of sun filters. CeraVe Hydrating Sheer Sunscreen is one great hybrid option for adults. This broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 combines the benefits of a mineral sunscreen with the cosmetic elegance of a chemical sunscreen formula. It’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, non-comedogenic, and suitable for all skin types (including sensitive skin and acne-prone skin).
Moisturizers with sunscreen
Many adults may appreciate a product that offers traditional skincare benefits, in addition to sun protection. Dr. Ugonabo often recommends moisturizers that include sunscreen as a convenient option, especially for those with dry skin. She says that having a moisturizer with [adequate] sunscreen “allows them to moisturize their skin and protect it from the sun simultaneously.”
Try: CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion or CeraVe Ultra-Light Moisturizing Lotion. These two products offer the benefits of sunscreen and moisturizer in one formula. Formulated with ceramides, they also help maintain the skin’s protective barrier and contain broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 to help protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
Choosing the Best Sunscreen at Any Age
Every good sun protection routine begins with the right sunscreen. “As a dermatologist, I recommend everyone wear sunscreen every day, year round—regardless of skin type, tone, or texture,” says Dr. Ugonabo. “Numerous research studies have demonstrated that wearing sunscreen can help minimize short-term and long-term damage to the skin from the sun’s rays.”
However, sunscreen products are not all created equal. Here are a few key terms to look for when choosing a sunscreen for you and your family:
- SPF 30 (or higher): “SPF corresponds to how much UV radiation is needed to produce a sunburn on protected skin, compared to unprotected skin,” explains Dr. Ugonabo. “I recommend my patients use an SPF of at least 30.” When used correctly, SPF 30 sunscreen has been shown to block 97% of the sun’s UVB rays (the type that causes sunburn).1
- Broad-spectrum: Look for sunscreens that say “broad-spectrum” on the label. Generally speaking, “UVB rays are responsible for sunburns while UVA rays are responsible for aging,” says Dr. Ugonabo. “Broad-spectrum sunscreen is important because it protects the skin from both of these UV rays.”
- Water-resistant: If you'll be swimming or sweating, look for a “water-resistant” sunscreen. It’s important to remember that even water-resistant sunscreens still need to be reapplied every 40 to 80 minutes (consult the product label), as well as after sweating, toweling off, or spending time in water.
- Lightweight: When considering a facial sunscreen, “I advise my patients to choose a lightweight sunscreen that won’t feel heavy on the face,” says Dr. Ugonabo. CeraVe offers a range of sunscreen products that are lightweight and non-comedogenic, meaning they won’t clog your pores.
- Formulated with beneficial ingredients: “I recommend patients look for ingredients such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid when choosing a sunscreen product,” says Dr. Ugonabo. “I also recommend fragrance-free sunscreens to minimize risk of irritation, particularly in those with sensitive skin.” All CeraVe sunscreens are fragrance-free, developed with dermatologists, contain three essential ceramides, and help maintain the skin’s protective barrier.
5 Ways To Protect Yourself From the Sun
Now that you have an understanding of the importance of sunscreen and UV protection for the entire family, here are some of our top sun protection tips to keep in mind.
1. Wear sunscreen every day
As mentioned above, it’s important to make sunscreen part of your family’s daily routine (and not just when spending time outdoors on sunny days). UVA rays can penetrate glass while driving to and from school or work (or anywhere else), and up to 80% of UV rays can still reach the skin on cloudy days.6 “Keep sunscreen in a very visible place so that you don’t forget to apply it,” says Dr. Ugonabo. “My favorite tip is next to your toothpaste since people tend not to forget to brush their teeth.” Carrying sunscreen in your bag can also help remind you to reapply it on the go.
2. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen on less obvious areas
Remember to apply sunscreen to often-forgotten spots, such as the ears, along the hairline, the tops of the feet, backs of the hands, and the lips. “Some options that may be more convenient include using a sunscreen stick, sunscreen spray, or powder sunscreen,” advises Dr. Ugonabo. “Just be sure to use enough regardless of what vehicle you choose.” For adults, the general recommendation is approximately one ounce of sunscreen to cover the entire body (the amount needed to fill a shot glass).
3. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours
According to Dr. Ugonabo, “It is recommended to reapply your sunscreen every two hours when outdoors, and after swimming or activities involving excessive sweating.” To help with this, Dr. Ugonabo recommends taking a travel-sized version with you on busy days, so that it’s easy to reapply.
4. Seek shade during peak hours
The FDA recommends avoiding sun exposure during peak hours (between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.).7 “Seeking shade, such as under an umbrella, can be helpful to help protect from the harmful effects of the sun,” says Dr. Ugonabo.
5. Wear protective clothing
Sun-protective clothing is another effective way to help protect skin from sun damage. We recommend wearing wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and long-sleeved shirts. For optimal protection, you can also find clothing for sun protection that includes “UPF” (ultraviolet protection factor) on the label.
For help choosing the right sunscreen products for you and your family, use our Find My Skincare Solution tool.
- “How to Decode Sunscreen Labels.” American Academy of Dermatology Association, 2023.
- Holman DM, Berkowitz Z, Guy GP Jr, Hawkins NA, Saraiya M, Watson M. “Patterns of sunscreen use on the face and other exposed skin among US adults.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2015 Jul;73(1):83-92.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2015.02.1112. Epub 2015 May 19. PMID: 26002066; PMCID: PMC4475428.
- “Sun Protection.” The Skin Cancer Foundation, 28 Jan. 2022.
- Thoonen K, Schneider F, Candel M, de Vries H, van Osch L. “Childhood sun safety at different ages: relations between parental sun protection behavior towards their child and children's own sun protection behavior.” BMC Public Health. 2019 Aug 5;19(1):1044. doi: 10.1186/s12889-019-7382-0. PMID: 31382940; PMCID: PMC6683475.
- “Skin Cancer Facts and Statistics.” The Skin Cancer Foundation, 6 Mar. 2023.
- Kruzel M, Tobiasz A, Łyko M, Szepietowski JC, Jankowska-Konsur A. “Photoprotection among young children: assessment of mothers' awareness and health behaviours.” Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2022 Apr;39(2):392-396. doi: 10.5114/ada.2021.105820. Epub 2021 Oct 26. PMID: 35645659; PMCID: PMC9131953.
- Office of the Commissioner. “Tips to Stay Safe in the Sun: From Sunscreen to Sunglasses.” U.S. Food And Drug Administration, Aug. 2022.
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