Children And Sunscreen: A Guide To Summer Hell

Illustration by Sam Woolley
Illustration by Sam Woolley

Every year I look forward to summer before remembering that summer is, in fact, hell. There are bugs. There is swampass. There are bored children punching each other for sport. And there is suntan lotion. Ohhhhhh, suntan lotion. Oh how I DESPISE you with a concentrated fury. Is there a more necessary evil in this world than sunscreen? I say no. If I’m taking kids to the pool or the beach, I can look forward to a half-hour sunscreen wrestling match, with kids thrashing about and getting half a gallon of Coppertone directly on their eyeballs before I can usher them out the door.


Even worse, the sunscreen market is flooded with shitty products that often don’t work and even contain harmful chemicals. I swear I’m not going all Kelly Preston on you with this shit. I love me some good chemicals. The more propyl gallate for me, the better. But you should be wary of “protecting” your kids from all of the sun’s lethal UV lasers and mutant gamma rays by soaking them in crocodile embalming fluid. So, with that in mind, here is a quick guide to slathering up your kids and RESPECTING THE SUN so that the little ones don’t come home from the pool looking like a glazed lechon pig roasting on a spit:

  1. The only good sunblock has either zinc or titanium as an ingredient. The problem is that zinc is nearly impossible to rub in. It’s like coating yourself in fucking latex. If you’re as old as I am, you remember the great Zinka phase of the 1980s where they tried to make zinc oxide cool and hip by making it in neon colors. That fad was extremely short-lived.
  2. Sprays are bullshit. I want sprays to work so, so badly. Nothing would please me more than to put a stop to the endless rubbing that comes with standard lotion sunblock. I end up rubbing the epidermis off of my children entirely. But sprays tend to wash off quickly, so you gotta rub them in anyway. And they fucking stink. You’re basically inhaling sunscreen when you use them, which is probably bad. I used a vanilla-scented one the other day and, for roughly eight hours I smelled like someone spilled Starbucks in a car. If you ever cave in and use the spray, make sure the kids put it on outside. There’s nothing they love more than graffiti-ing the hardwood in Banana Boat.
  3. Invest in rash guards. You know how some kids have swim shirts they wear to the pool and you think they’re wearing a shirt in the pool because they’re self-conscious about being chubby? TIMES HAVE CHANGED. A good rash guard can save parents HOURS of painful sunscreen application. Starting this year, I’m just gonna have the kids zip into a full wetsuit anytime they want to go out in the daylight. I also wear a rash guard myself. The only thing that takes longer to grease up a kid is to grease up my own body. Like trying to paint the moon.
  4. Applying lotion to your child’s back is not at all weird or uncomfortable. I curse every ‘70s porn movie that taught me that suntan lotion on a person’s back is an erotically charged moment. Fuck it, I’m leaving the kid’s back unprotected. Melanoma can’t hurt you if you don’t see it.
  5. Hats > Beach umbrellas. Beach umbrellas were invented to torture dads and give them a taste of what’s like to carry a 15th-century water bucket yoke. Then you get to the beach and spend 10 minutes trying to root it in the sand and the thing blows away within four seconds and impales a nearby dog. Fuck that shit. Wear a hat. Or buy one of those tent thingies that fancy-pants beach people have. Ever see those people who seem to have an entire home setup with them at the beach, complete with full charcoal grill? And they’re all drinking and having fun while their kids actually behave? Fuck them.
  6. Cheap sunblock will sting your ass. There’s nothing worse than shelling out $15 for half a dram of Neutrogena sunblock, and yet the alternative can be worse. That $7 bargain tub of No-Ad you bought is like applying battery acid directly to your skin.
  7. Take a break to reapply. This is the shittiest part of pool day, because you already put this shit on them once. Now you gotta do it AGAIN, and they’re all wet. Sometimes I spray them up just to say to the wife that I did it, then they come back home with a fever blister the size of a tennis pavilion. Nevertheless, get your kids out the water, dry them, give them a snack, and then have the put sunblock back on. I’m already exhausted thinking about the process. But there is salvation at hand in the form of…
  8. Sun sticks. Sun sticks are the best. It’s like putting deodorant on your face! I can run through half a sun stick in half a day. Anyway, sun sticks are good because kids like using them and putting on their own sunblock, which is good because when I try to apply it under my son’s eyes, I usually end up getting some right on his cornea. The sooner kids learn to master their own sub protection, and get into the ritual of applying it before heading out, the sooner you can kick back and enjoy a Mai Tai.


Drew Magary is a Deadspin columnist and columnist for GEN magazine. You can buy Drew's second novel, The Hike, through here.