Five Ways to Get Your Kid to Wear Sunscreen

By Heather White, EWG executive director, and Sonya Lunder, senior analyst

“Mom, I don’t want to look like a ghost.”

Ever heard that? We sure have.

EWG has been the go-to source for information on sunscreens for busy people and parents for nearly a decade. This year, we launched an exciting new sun safety campaign to encourage people to take the time to think through their sun protection regimen.

But we still struggle to get our kids to slather on the stuff that can help protect their skin from sun damage.

Here are some tried-and-true tactics recommended by the EWG staff:

1. Buy a sunscreen stick and let your kids “paint” each other.

This technique works for Heather’s girls, who are six and eight.  She gives them each a stick, and they chase each other around and paint faces.  Messy, but they think it’s fun. 

2.  Let your older kids apply the sunscreen themselves.

Give them a make-up applicator –a sponge or make-up brush – and let them do the job.  Alex’s five-year old daughter loved it.  Sometimes parents have to help out, but kids do pretty well – and take pride in their new skill.   

3.  Entice your kids with extra time outdoors or in the pool.

If they go along with sunscreen, reward them with five extra minutes in the pool or a fun activity in the shade during “adult swim.”  Sonya swears by this approach.  

4.  Let them pick out a sun hat and cover-up and tell them it’s “gear” – just like a backpack or soccer cleats.    

Choosing the right sunscreen is only part of sun safety.  Broad-rimmed hats, SPF 50 rash guards and long sleeve cover-ups can really make a difference.   Heather lets her kids chose their own outfits, which meant they actually wanted to wear it – and didn’t burn.  Sonya convinced her boys that their rash guards were like cool backpacks, bikes, cleats or other “gear.” Like eating fruits and vegetables, these good habits can last a lifetime.  

5.  Show them this photo so they can see what sun damage looks like when you’re older.


It’s a bit of a scare tactic, but it’s important for children to understand what the sun can do to their skin as they age.  Talk about skin cancer, too.  According to the American Academy of Dermatology, melanoma is now the most common cancer among people 25 to 29 years old. Even teenagers are getting it.  

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