The Great Sunscreen Experiment

by Katie Brazerol

Sunscreen-ExperimentAhhh….summer is here, and the days are hot and sunny. Grab your swimsuit, towel, flip-flops—and wait! Don’t forget the sunscreen! (Insert children’s groans here.)

Do you struggle with getting the children in your care to wear sunscreen on a consistent basis? Perhaps they aren’t aware of how helpful sunscreen can be. While being in the sunshine has many benefits for our minds and bodies, its powerful UV (ultra violet) rays can damage our skin. Try this experiment so they can get a first-hand look at exactly how sunscreen protects our skin from the sun.

What You’ll Need:Sunscreen Experiment1

  • dark construction paper
  • chalk
  • sunscreen lotion or spray
  • sponge brush

Step 1: Fold the sheet of construction paper in half. Use chalk to highlight the crease line down the center. Label one section Sunscreen and the other No Sunscreen.

Sunscreen Experiment2

Step 2: Squeeze a small amount of sunscreen onto the palm of one of your hands. Use a sponge brush or your other hand to rub the sunscreen around until your entire hand is covered. If you have sunscreen spray, mist it directly onto your hand rub your hands together to ensure the sunscreen completely covers your hand. (There should not be any white lotion showing. Make sure it’s rubbed into your hand fairly well.) Firmly press the hand onto the column labeled Sunscreen. There should be a faint handprint visible from where the sunscreen was.

Sunscreen Experiment3     Sunscreen Experiment4

Step 3: Place the sheet of paper outside in direct sunlight. (You may need to move the paper throughout the day as the sunlight moves.) You can also place the paper in a window that receives direct sunlight.

Step 4: Near the end of the day, bring in the paper so the children can observe it. What happened to the paper as it sat in the sunlight all day? Ask, “Is the paper lighter or darker than it was this morning?” Talk about how the areas where sunscreen was applied remained darker because the sunscreen protected the dye in the paper from the sun’s UV rays. The paper around the handprint faded throughout the day. Explain that every time the children add sunscreen to their skin, they are adding another layer of protection from the sun.

Sunscreen Experiment5


Digging Deeper for Providers:

So how does sunscreen protect our skin?

The sun’s UV (ultra violet) rays contain radiation. There are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. Each type causes some type of damage to our skin, but only UVA and UVB rays reach past our ozone. Most sunscreens contain ingredients that don’t allow these rays to penetrate the skin.

Are all sunscreens created equal?

There are many types of sunscreen available, so it’s important to choose one that will protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Select sunscreen that contains an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher for best protection.

Many sunscreens contain PABA (an antioxidant-rich acid), which might cause skin allergies. Fragrances and other ingredients might affect sensitive skin.

Can I use sunscreen spray?

Sunscreen sprays are convenient but should be used with caution. Sprays are easily ingested, which can irritate the lungs. Some sprays are flammable. They should not be applied or worn near any sparks or flames such as a campfire. In addition, it can be very difficult to figure out if a spray has been applied evenly without any missed spots.

Is waterproof sunscreen really waterproof when swimming?

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a new set of regulations for sunscreen labels. Sunscreens must protect against both UVA and UVB rays. They cannot claim to be waterproof or sweatproof. Instead, they must be labeled water resistant for a given amount of time. When swimming, sunscreen should be reapplied often.

Do all skin types need sunscreen?

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months should wear sunscreen, regardless of skin color (babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of the sun.) While fair-skinned individuals may show more obvious signs of sun exposure, cancer-causing sun rays can penetrate the skin of any individual. Therefore, sunscreen is recommended for everyone over 6 months of age.

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