5 Sunscreen Alternatives

Sandi Schwartz June 29, 2016

By Sandi Schwartz, Contributing Writer

Sunscreen is risky business. You can walk into any supermarket or drugstore and see shelves filled with sunscreen, but are any of them safe for your children? If you are concerned about the chemicals found in sunscreen, you can find other ways to protect your children’s skin from the strong summer sun. Consider the following tips—the 5 S’s of sunscreen alternatives—to minimize your children’s exposure to the sun.

5 Sunscreen Alternatives

Schedule Your Day Around The Sun

The best way to protect your children from the sun is to avoid it between 10 AM and 4 PM when sunlight is the most intense. This means you might want to wake up earlier and take the kids outside then or schedule playdates later in the day. This limitation, however, might be challenging at times given school, camp, and our daily schedules. Fortunately, there are many other ways that you can protect your children from the sun so they can still get outside and enjoy nature and playtime with their friends throughout the day.

Seek Shade

Looking for a shady area, or creating your own shade, is an effective way to enjoy being outdoors anytime of the day without damaging your skin. Be sure to scope out parks and other recreation areas that offer shady spots, such as playgrounds covered by canopies.

  • Strollers with Large Canopies. Always choose strollers that have large canopies to offer the most shade possible. This way, your child can be shaded all day, no matter where you take them.
  • Umbrellas. Look for large umbrellas that provide 50+ UPF protection. These are great to use if you are walking around an amusement park, watching a sporting event, or waiting in line outside. Keep in mind, however, that some UV can still reach you depending on the surrounding surface that the sun can reflect off of. For example, an umbrella on a sandy beach by the ocean provides limited sun protection because UV is reflected under the umbrella from the sand, water, and sky.
  • Trees. Shady trees are a lovely natural way to find a break from the sun. Trees with large spreads of dense foliage provide better protection. Look for trees near other trees or buildings to further block out the sun’s rays.
  • Shade Structures. Other types of effective shade structures include roofed areas, shade-sails with UV-protective fabrics, and pavilions. Look for structures that provide a large shady area to give you the most protection possible. Those with side protection like walls or pull-down shades are the best.

Suit Up Safely

Clothing is our first line of defense against the sun’s harmful rays, absorbing or blocking much of the UV radiation. Fortunately, there are now so many stores offering adorable UPF 50 clothes for our kids.

How do you know which clothing to choose?

  • Look for clothing labeled as UPF 50+. UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and indicates what fraction of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can penetrate through the fabric. A shirt with a UPF of 50, for example, allows just 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach the skin.
  • The more skin you cover, the better. A long-sleeved shirt offers more protection than a tank top or t-shirt, even if they are UPF 50.
  • Not all fabric offers the same sun protection. Clothes made from tightly woven fabrics offer the best protection. The easiest way to test if a fabric can protect your skin is to hold it up to the light. If you can see through it, then UV radiation can penetrate through it easily. Your best bet is to buy sun-protection clothing that has been specially treated with UV absorbers.
  • Color matters, too. Darker colors offer more protection than lighter colors.

Just be aware that sun-protective clothing may lose its effectiveness if pulled too tight or stretched out, if it becomes wet, or if it is washed repeatedly.

Slap On A Hat

Sun damage is more often found on the head and face compared with other parts of the body. You can easily protect your children’s head and face by making sure they wear a hat with a 3-inch broad brim that goes all the way around. This way, their nose, ears, cheeks, and neck will be covered.

When it comes to the type of hat, choose ones labeled UPF 50 and that have a tightly woven fabric, such as canvas. A darker hat may offer more UV protection. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through and baseball caps that don’t cover your children’s ears or neck properly.

Your children may be annoyed with you always insisting they wear a hat, so let them choose a few hats with designs and colors they love. This way they will look forward to wearing their hat and not fight you every time you are about to walk out the door.

5 Sunscreen Alternatives

Send Them Out With Sunglasses

Over time, the sun’s ultraviolet rays can damage the eyes and skin around the eyes. Children under age 10 are especially at risk for this damage because their skin in this area is more delicate and vulnerable than ours. Additionally, until about age 10, the lens of a child’s eye is clear, allowing more light to penetrate into their eyes. This can lead to vision problems over time. In order to protect our children’s eyes, we need to make sure they wear sunglasses outside year-round, even on cloudy days.

Consider these tips when you are looking for the best sunglasses for your kids:

  • Start them out young—children should start wearing sunglasses when they are infants. If they have prescription glasses, they should also wear prescription sunglasses.
  • Look for sunglasses that block 99-100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Only buy glasses that tell you the percentage of UV protection they provide. For an extra guarantee of safety, look for The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation.
  • Choose sunglasses that are large enough to shield the eyes, eyelids, and surrounding skin. Wraparound styles with a close fit and UV-protective side shields are ideal.
  • Kid’s sunglasses should match their active lifestyle, so try to find ones that have durable, impact-resistant, and scratch-proof plastic lenses. Also, the frames should be bendable but unbreakable.
  • Check that the fit is correct; they should fit snugly and close to the face.

Wearing sunglasses is an important habit that can also be fun. If your children fight you, teach them when they are young about the importance of wearing sunglasses. Try comparing it to wearing a seatbelt or brushing their teeth. Let them choose their favorite sunglasses at the store so they have some control over what they are wearing.

What sunscreen alternatives do you use?

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Sandi Schwartz is a freelance writer, editor, and researcher specializing in parenting, wellness, environmental issues, and human behavior. She enjoys analyzing everyday life using science, humor, and a passion to improve the world. Her blog Happy Science Mom provides a parenting toolkit for raising happy, balanced children.


  1. Just walking the dog early a.m. has given me more of a tan than I thought i would get, teaching me the importance of wearing a hat even when I think it is not tan time. Because it’s always tan time.


  2. All great suggestions, especially the sunglasses. Many people will put on the sunblock and cover up their children, but forget sunglasses to protect the eyes.


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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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