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With warmer temperatures come fun-filled days of pool parties, camping trips, and playtime in the park. But it’s never too early to protect your kids’ skin from the sun’s rays. Whether your child has sensitive skin or is active in sports, we’ve rounded up this handy guide to help you select the best sunscreen for kids and babies.
A great deal of sun damage can occur before we care about our skin—some research suggests that over 50 percent of our UV exposure happens before age 20.
Sunscreen, as you know, can help protect your family from painful sunburns and long-term damage, which can eventually result in certain skin cancers. That said, we’ve all heard of someone who applied sunscreen as soon as they ventured outside but forgot to reapply and thus ended up with a blistering burn at the end of the day (ouch!). Therefore, it is important to remember sunscreen must be used and applied as directed to work correctly. And speaking of application, there is a wide array of sunscreen application types, from lotions and creams to sticks and sprays.
But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s back up a moment. Whether you’re pro-chemical or pro-mineral, there is seemingly no end to the debate as to which is better, especially when it comes to putting sunscreen on our kids’ skin. To clarify, chemical sunscreen is the more traditional sunscreen that you rub into the skin entirely. Mineral sunscreen essentially puts a physical barrier between skin and the sun’s harmful rays, but it may make you look a little “ghostly pale,” though companies have greatly improved that side effect in recent years.
As sure as the sun will rise in the morning, there is a lot to consider when it comes to sunscreen. Lucky for you, we’re here to help and get a few tips from the experts as to the best sunscreen for your kid and what you should pack in that bag that will go everywhere you go this summer.
Best Ways to Keep Kids Safe in the Sun
Let’s begin by stating that even the best sunscreen for kids is just one way to help protect your family’s skin from the sun’s harmful rays. As noted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “sunscreen should be used for sun protection, not as a reason to stay in the sun longer.”
To start, cover kids up with clothing made of tightly woven fabrics such as cotton to lessen the amount of exposed skin. If possible, it’s important also to remember to keep kids out of the sun during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest. If you are shopping for new swimming suits or even everyday summer wear, keep an eye out for kids’ clothing that is sun-protective, such as swimming shirts. We love SwimZip’s UPF 50+ swimsuits and rashguards for kids.
Notice your kid continually squinting because of the sun in their eyes? Bring on the wide-brimmed sun hats and UV protected sunglasses. Not only can they make a fashion statement, but they can also protect your child’s face, ears, and neck from harmful rays. Don’t let those puffy clouds in the sky fool you either. An overcast day can quickly become you and your kid’s worst nightmare, as most of the sun’s rays, though behind clouds, can still cause sunburn.
Be sure to apply sunscreen anytime your family is outside, whether it is sunny or not. Last, but certainly not least, always set a good example when it comes to sun safety by sporting your favorite hat, pair of sunglasses, or swimming shirt.
When it’s time to apply, use plenty of sunscreen, which experts say is approximately one ounce (or a full shot glass) per use for a young adult, and ensure it gets rubbed in well. Cover all exposed skin, and note the AAP’s protection tip of taking special care around the face, nose, feet, hands, ears, and backs of knees. For full protection, put sunscreen on 30 minutes before exposure to the sun and reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. When around water, sand, snow, or even concrete, remember UV rays from the sun can bounce back and cause significant burning in areas you may not think of, such as under the nose.
Pro tip: If you find yourself scrambling to catch your mini-me in an attempt to apply their sunscreen before they run to the park or beach, try letting them put some sunscreen on you first!
What to Look For in Kids’ Sunscreen
The best sunscreen for kids is one that is labeled “broad-spectrum,” which means it protects children from both ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) light rays that can harm their young skin. Whatever the occasion for sunscreen, always start with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15. Anything with an SPF of 15 to 30 should be sufficient if applied as directed; however, going with an SPF of 50+ will provide limited additional benefits.
Water-resistance is another thing that is especially important because sunscreen can come off due to sweat and fun in the water. The American Academy of Dermatology states that water-resistant or very water-resistant sunscreen can protect for up to 40 or 80 minutes. No matter what, always remember that sunscreens are not waterproof or sweatproof and that you should reapply every two hours, or after swimming, perspiring, or towel drying.
The discussion of potentially harmful chemicals has spurred quite the conversation. As a result, some parents may choose to avoid sunscreens that contain specific ingredients, most notably oxybenzone, a chemical ingredient that may contain hormonal properties. As an alternative, some caregivers are opting for sunscreens that use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which protect young skin without absorption. An easy way to recognize this type of sunscreen is to think back to those classic images of lifeguards at the pool with “white” noses covered in sunscreen. It turns out that it’s zinc oxide, and it’s a very effective sunscreen that is a great way to protect those areas that get a little extra exposure such as noses, cheeks, shoulders, and the tops of the ears. These days, zinc oxide sunscreens have amped up their coolness factor because they can now come in tinted and fun colors like the Zinka Colored Nosecoat Zinc Oxide Sunblock multipack ($17; walmart.com).
Best Sunscreen Application Types for Kids
There are multiple sunscreen application types from which parents can pick. Lotions and creams tend to have the deepest coverage and are ideal for dry skin and around the face. Sunscreen sticks prove to be extremely convenient for caregivers and work well for faces, as they won’t run or get into the child’s eyes.
Another application type that is popular with families is a sunscreen spray or mist, which may seem convenient but is not always recommended by professionals because it may not be applied evenly or put on at all. Not only that, but spray or mist sunscreens can also cause lung irritation and prove to be flammable if put close to an open flame. It’s also important to note that, as stated by the American Academy of Dermatology, when asked what type of sunscreen should be used, they say that “current FDA regulations on testing and standardization do not pertain to spray sunscreens. The agency continues to evaluate these products to ensure safety and effectiveness.”
Don’t forget to protect those sweet summer smiles! Toss in a lip balm that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher in your summer go-to bag to prevent damage to your child’s lips where skin cancer can also form.
Whichever sunscreen application type you choose, the American Academy of Dermatology notes that the best sunscreen for kids and anyone else “is the one you will use again and again,” assuming you also pick one that is broad-spectrum, is SPF 30 or higher, and is water-resistant.
Below, check out our picks for the best sunscreen for kids.
Best Overall: Babyganics 50+ SPF Sunscreen Lotion
Best for Kids Who Swim: Thinksport Kids Safe SPF 50+ Sunscreen Lotion
Best for Kids Who Play Sports: SUPERGOOP! Glow Stick SPF 50
Best for Kids with Sensitive Skin: Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Sunscreen
Best for the Environment: Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen
Best for Babies: Sun Bum Baby Bum Mineral Lotion Sunscreen SPF 50
Best Dermatologist Approved: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Dermo Kids Sunscreen SPF
Best Parent-Approved: All Good Kids Sunscreen Lotion Water Resistant
Best Sheer Sunscreen: Babo Botanicals Baby Skin Mineral Sunscreen Lotion
Best Sunscreen Stick: Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Stick
Best Mineral Sunscreen: Pipette Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50