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Get Ready for More Time in the Sunshine: 5 Sun Protection Tips for the Whole Family

With Spring in full bloom, longer daylight hours in-step, and Summer just around the corner, its that time of year when we are ready to dump the heavy coats, get outside, and bask in the sunshine! 

People at the beach under umbrellas.

Written by Dr. Ahnee Min-Yau , FitPro Wellbeing Speaker

While there are many benefits to getting outdoors in nature, relaxing at the beach, and soaking up the sun’s rays for some natural vitamin D, make sure you’re stocked up on sunscreen before you head outside! 

Sunscreen is a fundamental part of basic skincare that should not be taken lightly and certainly should be something you don’t leave the house without! If you’ve ever had questions on what type of sunscreen to use, how much to apply, and when to start using it, you’ve come to the right place!

First things first, to be clear, being out in the sun is not all bad! According to the World Health Organization, soaking up 5-15 minutes of sunlight 2-3 times a week gives your body a good dose of the ‘sunshine vitamin”— Vitamin D. In fact, because very few foods contain significant amounts of it, sun exposure is actually the best way to boost vitamin D levels naturally. But not all sun exposure is equal, so wearing sunscreen or getting the sun’s rays through a window won’t cut it, but rather the sun must penetrate the skin so that the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit cholesterol in the skin cells, and provide the energy for vitamin D synthesis to happen.

While adults’ needs for vitamin D varies by gender and age, children need 400 IU’s (International Units) from 0 - 12 months and 600 IU’s from 1 yr - 18 yrs. It’s also important to note the need for both calcium and vitamin D as part of good bone health. Vitamin D supplements can be taken with or without food and the full amount can be taken at one time. While your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, you do not need to take vitamin D at the same time as a calcium supplement. And the amount of calcium you need every day depends on your age and gender: For women 50 and under, 1000 mg daily, and for women 51 and older, 1200 mg daily. For men 70 and under, 1000mg daily and for men 71 and older, 1200 mg daily. In terms of vitamin D for men and women under 50 years of age, it’s 400-800 IU’s daily, and 800- 1000 IU’s daily for over 51 years of age. 

Once you’ve hit your vitamin D quota, let’s make sure you are protecting your skin with the best sunscreen for your body and your face, as well as distinguish what’s best to use on adults vs children. First and foremost, it’s very important to look at the ingredients in your sunscreen and to make sure they don’t contain harsh ingredients which can irritate the skin like: added fragrances, chemicals or dyes. Hand in hand with looking out for irritants, it’s also key to choose a sunscreen for your skin-type. So for sensitive skin, choose a fragrance-free sunscreen to limit reactions and inflammation. For oily or acne-prone skin, look for a hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic option to keep the pores clear. Sunscreens even come in a “matte" or powdered formula to help absorb excess oil or one that can help exfoliate the skin using lactic acid. Nowadays many face sunscreen products do come in a tint which can match to your skin tone, making it almost feel like a light foundation with good coverage. And lastly, for mature skin, find an option that helps fight the signs of aging while protecting the skin, and one that gets absorbed into the skin vs sitting on top of the epidermis and emphasizing fine lines and wrinkles.

Parent applying sunscreen to child.

Second, find the type of sunscreen that feels right on your skin, especially for the face because the skin on our face is more delicate and may be more sensitive. The most common sunscreens are either mineral-based or chemical and while the former uses ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, the chemical sunscreens contain oxybenzone, avobenzone, and homosalate, which are absorbed into the skin. "When the chemicals come into contact with UV radiation, the UV rays are converted to heat and reflected off the skin in a chemical reaction.”

Next, you want to find a “Broad Spectrum” formula that offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays, especially because UVA rays tend to go deeper and can be more damaging that UVB. If you’re making the effort to put on sunscreen you best make sure you are getting optimal coverall across the full spectrum so you’re totally protected!

To go SPF 50 or higher and does it make a difference? Basically, SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and while SPF30 is plenty and prevents 97% of UVB rays from reaching the skin, and SPF 50 is stronger and isn’t 100% protective and may allow about 2% of rays through. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for any extended outdoor activity. Regardless of the SPF, though, it’s important to apply one ounce (two tablespoons) 30 minutes before going outside and reapply it every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.

This brings us to our 5th and final, critical reminder….you should not rely just on sunscreen alone to protect you while out enjoying some outdoor fun in the sun. It’s not just about what SPF you use, or using makeup/foundation that contains SPF in it, or about reapplying regularly, but to keep a broader perspective about protecting the skin from sun damage, sunburns, and even skin cancer. Take sunscreen and sincere seriously and use other protective gear like: hats, light or UV protective clothing, staying in the shade, and staying mindful of how long you are in the sun, as your best defense against those powerful UV rays! And for those with a family history and high risk of skin cancer, certain immune disorders, or other genetic conditions like albinism, take extra care and diligence to keep skin safe and healthy! 

Sunscreen for Children: Sunscreen Lotion vs. Mineral Sunblock

For children, while spray sunscreens seem less messy, easy to apply, and especially easier to spray on fidgety children, sunblock is the better option. Sunblock contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide — minerals that physically block the sun’s rays by scattering ultraviolet radiation.

In contrast, sunscreen uses chemicals to absorb ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Either way, parents should look for sunblock or sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 or higher and that protects against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays (similar to adults). UVA rays are associated with skin aging, while UVB rays cause sunburn.

For outdoor activities or other situations where your child may be swimming or sweating, consider water-resistant sunscreen or sunblock. Because both sunscreen and sunblock have beneficial qualities, you may find the best protection by using a product that contains both a UVB chemical sunscreen that includes a physical sunblock ingredient, like zinc or titanium, as well as a higher SPF and broad-spectrum coverage.

What age is it ok to use sunscreen and what about SPF’s for children?

In general, it’s always best to practice sun-safety first, meaning keeping children out of the sun and use sun protective hats, clothing and sunglasses. For infants under 6 months old, this is a must, as well as using stroller shades and also being mindful of reflective sunlight from surroundings (windows, water/pool, surfaces). However, sunscreen labeled for babies and kids often has the same active ingredients as adult versions, so do read the labels if you are looking for something more ‘clean,’ meaning that don’t contain harmful chemicals. The most dangerous sunscreen ingredient is benzene, a toxic chemical derived from petroleum that’s also found in tobacco smoke, vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions. Benzene has been found in aerosol or spray sunscreens, many of which have been recalled.

Usually at 6 months of age, you can start protecting your child with sunscreen. Start by applying a small test patch on their skin to make sure they don’t develop a rash or other reaction. Follow the general rules to reapply often and also not rely solely on the sunscreen for maximum protection. 

Spray Sunscreen vs. Lotion

Aside from the risk of benzene exposure, chemical sunscreen in a spray bottle can irritate nasal passages and enter the mouth and eyes when sprayed on the face. Additionally, since chemical sunscreens in either spray or lotion form can burn the eyes if a child is swimming or sweating, kids with sensitive skin and eyes may do better with sunblock lotion that has only zinc oxide or titanium oxide.

Therefore, overall, sunscreen lotion is the best way to go. Spray is not recommended, but if that is the only option you have, be sure to spray the sunscreen onto your hands first and then rub it onto your child's skin and face to avoid getting the spray into the eyes or mouth.

Now that you have this sunscreen guide in your back pocket, go out and have some safe, fun in the sun! 

Looking for more? Contact a Wellbeing Manager to discuss your organizational wellbeing needs.


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