Sun Safety Tips for Kids: How to Protect Your Skin from the Sun

sunburned skin - painful, red, itchy, uncomfortable

Sun safety tips are important for kids all year round. That’s because being outside is good for our mind and body. Sunlight also helps our skin make Vitamin D, and this vitamin helps make our bones, brain, and immune system stronger.

But there’s a downside to having fun in the sun. After all, sunburns can hurt a lot! Even if your skin doesn’t burn easily, you still need to protect it. When you grow up, you don’t want to regret skipping simple sun safety tips!

Why Sun Safety is Important for Kids and Their Skin

Its science: too much sun can actually hurt your skin. Sun beams have invisible ultraviolet light rays, which are usually called “UV rays” for short. When your skin gets exposed to UV rays, it makes a chemical called melanin. Melanin tries to protect your skin by making your skin darker. People with light-colored skin have less melanin compared to people with darker shades of skin. But melanin isn’t enough to protect our skin from getting hurt.

Unlike sunlight and heat, UV rays are tricky because you can’t see or feel them. Even on a cool or cloudy day, UV rays can hurt our skin if the UV rays are strong.

Sometimes you can see the skin damage happen right after being in the sun. But a lot of problems don’t show up until you get older. That’s why sun safety tips are super important for kids to learn about.

Sunburns

peeling sunburned skin from a person who didn't wear sunscreen

Sunburns are painful, red, and itchy. People with lighter skin can sunburn very easily. People with darker shades of skin can also get a sunburn, but the sunburn might not be as noticeable.

A few days after a sunburn, the skin starts to peel, because the body is trying to get rid of damaged skin cells.

Skin Cancer

melanoma skin cancer - risk of too much sun exposure without no protection

Even though skin cancer rarely happens to kids, it’s the most common cancer in grown-ups.

Skin cancer starts as a change on the skin, like a new big mole or a change in a mole that was already on the skin. Cancer cells can grow out of control and hurt the healthy cells around it.

Wrinkles

risk of wrinkles from excessive sun exposure and no sun protection

Wrinkles are a normal part of growing older. Everyone will get wrinkles sooner or later!

But being in the sun without protection can make extra wrinkles come earlier.

(Side note: Too much sun can also lead to dehydration, which is when your body overheats and loses too much water and salt. If you’ve ever been dehydrated, you know how terrible it feels!)

What is a Safe UV Index for Kids?

Wondering how strong the UV rays are in your town? The UV index is a helpful scale that you can check before getting dressed and planning the day. Here’s what the UV index numbers mean:

  • 1 to 2: Low exposure to UV rays
  • 3 to 5: Moderate exposure to UV rays
  • 6 to 7: High exposure to UV rays
  • 8 to 10: Very high exposure to UV rays
  • 11 and up: Extreme exposure to UV rays

At night, the UV index is 0. As the sun rises and the day begins, the UV index starts low and gets higher in the middle of the day. Then the UV index drops back down as the sun goes down.

A “safe” UV index depends your skin type. People with light-colored skin tend to burn easily, even when the UV index is low. For other people, a UV index of 1 or 2 might be pretty low risk for sunburns.

UV Index - simple chart for Kids

How to Protect Your Skin from the Sun

Luckily, sun safety tips can keep you safe while you play outside. All of these tips work best together.

1. Slather on sunscreen with SPF30 or higher

teenager putting on sunscreen to prevent sunburn

Sunscreen is ultra important for sun safety. There are tons of brands to choose from, but the most important thing to check is that the sunscreen is SPF30 or higher.

SPF stands for sun protection factor. The number gives you a sense of how long the sunscreen can protect your skin compared to not wearing any sunscreen.

When choosing sunscreen, you can pick a cream, bar, or spray – whichever feels best on your skin. Before you put on your clothes and go outside, smear on a thick layer of sunscreen. If you’re using a spray or a bar, put on a few layers of sunscreen to make sure you have enough.

Sunscreen doesn’t last all day though. Put on some more sunscreen every couple of hours or after you get wet from swimming or sweating.

baby wearing hat and long-sleeved clothes for sun safety

2. Cover up!

Wear a wide-brimmed hat or bucket hat for kids

Hats are an easy sun safety trick, and even better if it has a wide brim. When a hat is wide, its shadow can shade your face and neck from the sun. Because hairlines can be such a tricky place to put on sunscreen, hats also cover up this area and protect your scalp from sunburns.

Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants

Of course, you might not want to wear anything in super hot weather! But your skin cells will thank you if you cover it up. Keep an eye out for clothes with special sun protection in the fabric!

3. Wear sunglasses

sunglasses for sun safety and eye protection

Did you know that you can sunburn your eyes? Yes, even the eyes can get hurt from too much sun. Doctors call this photokeratitis.

Sunglasses make you look super cool, and they protect against eye damage from the sun. They can also cover the skin around your eyes where it’s hard to put on sunscreen. With sunglasses, you won’t need to squint in the sun, so you’ll feel more comfortable and see better!

beach umbrella shade for sun safety and skin protection

4. Hang out in the shade

Relax under a tree, pop up a tent, or open an umbrella! Shade is a smart way to avoid the full blast of UV rays. Plus, you still get all the good stuff from being outside.

But shade isn’t enough. UV rays still bounce off water, sand, grass, and even snow. That’s why you need different types of sun safety tips.

5. Avoid peak sun hours

Peak sun hours are when UV rays from the sun are the strongest. This is usually in the middle of the day, like between 10 o’clock in the morning and 4 o’clock in the afternoon. When you check the weather forecast, remember to look at the UV index before you head out!

UV Index Chart with Sun Safety Tips

If this felt like a lot of information to keep track of, don’t worry!

This helpful UV index chart has all of the sun safety tips you learned here.

  • When the UV index is low, you might need only one or a few types of sun protection.
  • When the UV index is moderate or high, cover up and/or hide under a shady spot.
  • When the UV index is very high or extremely high, try to avoid the sun during the middle of the day. If you need to get outside, try to follow all of the other sun safety tips.
UV index chart with sun safety tips for kids

Learn More about Your Amazing Body


Updated on September 4, 2022 Reviewed by Betty Choi, MD

Updated on September 4, 2022

Reviewed by Betty Choi, MD