Sunscreen for Teens: How Do You Get Teens to Wear Sunscreen?

sunscreen for teens

Sunscreen for teens can be tricky. What is the best sunscreen for teens and what’s the most motivating information you can discuss with the teenagers you love to get them to wear sunscreen every day? Wouldn't you think that a discussion about skin cancer, death, surgery, and scars would do the trick?

Actually, nope! The threat of wrinkles, age spots, and old-looking skin is what will motivate your teens to apply sunscreen.  According to a study just published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology this month, you’ll be most effective if you talk to your teen about how the sun will make their skin look prematurely old.

Sunscreen for Teens (and Adults Too): How to Keep Skin Looking Youthful

A Scientific study has proven that sun exposure causes wrinkles and age spots. We know that sun protection keeps skin looking youthful. I've found this to be true in my dermatology practice for the past 25 years. I like to educate my patients.

Ultimate Acne Solutions Kit

For teens, the “penance” for coming in and asking me about acne treatment and getting started on an acne skin care routine is my talk about sun protection. No teen escapes it! Over the years, I’ve watched when their eyes glaze over and that’s helped me refine my spiel. Yes, some teens also like to see graphic photos of skin cancers and scars.

But I've found that what really holds their attention and motivates them to use SPF is information about wrinkles, skin thinning, melasma, and freckles. They don’t want any of those in their future. - Dr. Bailey

To remove the last vestiges of doubt, I tell teens to look at the skin of the adults in their lives. I tell them to compare the outer surfaces of an adult’s arm to the under-surface for the proof – seeing freckles and crepe-like skin with wrinkles on the outer surface and baby smooth perfect skin on the under-surface usually does it! Which would they prefer on their faces, necks, and chests in 10 or 20 years?

I remind them that when they are 30 years old, they WILL still care about how they look.

I love seeing the moment of clear understanding dawn across their faces. On subsequent visits I love hearing them describe their sunscreen as an integral part of their daily skin care routine. I see it as an important legacy for me. So, talk about wrinkles next time you broach the sun protection subject with a teen you hold dear to your heart. Show them your arms or the sides of your neck. That’s where the wear and tear of sun exposure really shows. It’s preventable and they are young enough to avoid it with daily use of a good broad spectrum sunscreen.

Yes it's even better to get them to also adopt good sun-avoidance practices like wearing a broad brimmed hat, wearing sun-protective clothing, and staying in the shade. But you must take one step at a time with new converts. I find that asking a teen to “go all the way” with sun protection gets me that glazed over look again. If they’re spending the summer in the sun as a life guard I may get the Full Monty but otherwise I’m at least thrilled with daily use of a good sunscreen on all of their exposed skin.

What’s the best sunscreen for teens?

Most teens have oily skin and at least a little acne so an oil-free sunscreen with no pore-clogging ingredients is best.

For facial skin, teens want a light weight product like one of my Sheer Strength Pure Physical SPF 30-50+ Sunscreens. The family of sunscreens includes:


All of these products are created with technology that is far superior to mass marketed sunscreens. They use the most modern mineral sunscreen technology to maximize protection but still provide a light weight feel on skin. They are non-comedogenic and perfect for acne-prone teen complexions.

Mineral sunscreens are the best for teenagers

pure mineral spf 50 sunscreen is best for teenagers

I only recommend mineral SPF for teens. It's important to know that there are two types of sunscreens, 1. Chemical SPF and, 2. Mineral SPF. We now know that the chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the skin and present in high amounts in the body. This happens quickly and these chemicals can interfere with hormones. Even the FDA only considers zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as "GRAS", which means Generally Recognized As Safe! I don't recommend chemical sunscreens for teenagers. Mineral zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens are not absorbed into the body. Zinc oxide in particular gives excellent broad spectrum protection.

I recommend mineral sunscreens with at least 5% or more zinc oxide for teenagers. I don't recommend chemical sunscreens for teens, children - or anyone for that matter. - Dr. Bailey

As a dermatologist who has done well over 200,000 skin exams, I know that the mineral zinc products give the best protection, especially against the highly aging UV ray called UVA. All my Sheer Strength Sunscreens are pure mineral products with over 5% zinc oxide. 

“Zinc oxide sunscreens are the best!... Other people were using SPF 50s and burning.  Because mine had zinc it worked and my skin didn’t burn like theirs.” Brenda W, Sebastopol

Click here to see all my dermatologist-recommended facial sun protection products. 

One last bit of advice regarding teens and sunscreen


One form of acne called Pityrosporum folliculitis often will leave brown marks on the skin for a really long time after pimples have healed. Sun protection helps prevent this! My Pityrosporum Folliculitis Acne Treatment Kit includes the perfect SPF to help prevent hyperpigmented acne marks. Talking about preventing brown marks helps motivate teens suffering from acne to wear sunscreen!