Sunscreen Science for Kids

Jun 22, 2015

Activity for ages 3 to 6.

If there is one thing my kiddos {and I} don’t like about summer it’s having to slather on sunscreen. But after this low-prep, super simple kids’ science experiment showed us just how important sunscreen actually is, none of us are complaining about the inconvenience.

Easy kids science activity Sunscreen Science

Getting Ready

The prep for this experiment couldn’t be easier.  I grabbed a piece of dark construction paper {black, blue, or purple} for each child, a writing utensil, and sunscreen.  {Use sunscreen that goes on clear. We initially used a zinc oxide sunscreen and it was too thick and we couldn’t see the results.}

Super easy sunscreen science for kids

Then I drew a line down the middle of the paper and labeled one side “sunscreen” and the other “no sunscreen”.  Ta da, it’s as easy as that.

Before starting the experiment I asked my 3 and 5 year old why we wear sunscreen.  My 5 year old shouted, “To protect us from the sun!”  “Exactly, now lets see if we can see that,” I replied.  I grabbed a bottle of spray on sunscreen and covered my kids hands with a thin layer.  I had them make a sunscreen handprint on the side of the paper labeled “sunscreen”.

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Next we headed outside to find a spot where the paper would get full sun and left it there while we played.

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Initially, the paper looked wet from the oils but it eventually absorbed over time and the handprint almost disappeared.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky so, after a couple hours, we could already see the paper had become lighter.  We left it for another couple hours before bringing the papers in to see what damage the sun had done.

Super easy sunscreen science for kids

The paper had become pretty sun bleached but the paper under the sunscreen handprints remained the original color.  The sunscreen really did protect the paper from becoming bleached.  My kiddos were pretty amazed!

The Science Behind It

The sun emits 3 types of ultra violet {UV} radiation.  Two types, UVA and UVB, can damage skin.  Sunscreen works by combining organic and inorganic active ingredients to protect skin from these harmful UV rays emitted by the sun.

Inorganic ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium oxide provide a physical barrier and work by reflecting or scattering ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Organic ingredients like octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) or oxybenzone work by absorbing UV radiation and dissipating it as heat. Some organic chemicals don’t break down when exposed to UV light but others do slowly break down over time.  That’s one reason why we have to reapply after a long time in the sun.

When we applied sunscreen to the paper, the chemicals in the sunscreen absorbed the UV radiation and prevented them from bleaching the paper.

More Science Fun

Ready for more backyard science? Make a solar oven, dig for worms and whip up a batch of ice cream in a bag.

1 Comment

  1. Rachel

    This is a great experiment! I love your blog and particularly appreciate the scientific explanations!

    Reply

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Hi, I’m Malia.

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