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How to Get Teens to Wear Sunscreen: Nurturing Teens Sunscreen Habits

As a former founder of a sunscreen company, a skin cancer sufferer and a mom of two teenagers, you would think that my kids would be avid sunscreen wearers - sadly not! As little kids I was able to apply sunscreen for them but once they hit pre-teen it was extremely difficult.

US Sun Care Habits vs Abroad

When I taught briefly after I graduated from university in New Zealand the idea of being sun aware was pretty much ingrained in kids through school, parents and the community. Phases such as ‘no hat no play’ were commonly heard on the playground.  Kids who had forgotten their hat had to borrow one from lost property or sit in the shade. Unfortunately in the USA this isn't the case so we as parents and caregivers NEED to educate teens on the importance of wearing sunscreen. Consistent messaging and role modeling will hopefully move teens along the road to wearing more sunscreen.

Why Teens Resist Sunscreen: The Social Pressure of a Tan

Tanning became fashionable - the bikini strap tan lines became a status symbol, a peeling nose was met with ‘’it’s fine mum - leave me alone”. As a parent who has suffered from skin cancer all my life - my kids have seen my red face and scars but this still doesn’t stop them tanning and forgetting to apply sunscreen. To be fair most mornings before school they apply sunscreen as it's been a regime for as long as they remember but when they are out and about hanging with their friends, sunscreen is the last thing on their mind.
Red, scared face from skin cancer

Why Teens Resist Sunscreen

Social Pressure:

Teens are living in the ‘here and now’. Their appearance and gaining acceptance of peers is very important. A tan is often associated with being youthful, fit and healthy.

Convenience Issues:

Teens find sunscreen application bothersome. Not having a bottle handy when needed - it's just one extra thing for them to think about.


​​Texture Preferences & Sensory Sensitivity:

They dislike the feel of sunscreen. It’s icky, makes their face shiny and clogs their pores which in term makes them break out.


Lack of Skin Cancer Awareness:

A sense of invincibility “it won't happen to me - I won’t get skin cancer”. Teens may not fully grasp the damage the sun can do to their skin long-term.

Solutions: Getting Teens to Wear Sunscreen

Appeal to their vanity

study originally published in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology showed that appealing to teens' vanity  - ‘have you seen what the sun can do to a grape? It gets shriveled and wrinkled - raisins are not cute," - was a far more effective way of getting teens to wear sunscreen. Another similar study using a face aging app instead of a video seemed to have a similar result. 

Leading by example:

I wear sunscreen every day and remind my teens to do as well. Like with everything, it’s easier to start when they are younger and be consistent but life gets busy and teens are more independent so it can be challenging. 

Daily Integration:

Include sunscreen in teens' daily routine - a lot of sunscreen out there can be used as a moisturizer thus reducing the steps in the morning. My kids use plain ole Cetaphil cleanser followed by Elta MD Broad Spectrum SPF 50. I stress the  importance of this akin to brushing teeth or washing their face.

Having travel size products in any place where a teen is likely to be. Here are a few we use on our travels, in the car and sports bag   - they are small enough to fit into a pocket if need be.

Hero Cosmetics Force Shield Superlight Sunscreen - SPF 30 - 10ml$4.99Target(99)Free 90-day returns (most)




Keeping Up with What is Trending:

Check out what is trending on social media or ask your  teen.  They are more likely to wear something if they like it or it is popular. Suggest trying different formulations for comfort - options include matte finishes, oil-free formulas, or those for acne-prone skin.

The best sunscreen  is the one that they will apply, and reapply, often. My takeaway is that brand isn’t necessarily important nor the type of application (though this short clip is a great way to show how different modes of  application can affect sun exposure).

As a parent of two wonderful, challenging, messy teenagers, I  have to pick my battles, so frankly I don’t mind as long as there is sunscreen in some form on their exposed skin. As lovely as it is to say - stay in the shade and wear a hat - realistically does that happen for the majority of teens? Absolutely NOT! It’s baby steps in the right direction... Lastly, keep reminding them that DAILY application of sunscreen is a priority.  One day your teenager will thank you for your nagging persistence.

Sincerely yours Rachel x


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