Before applying sunscreen, always test it on a small space on your child’s back for an allergic reaction. Contact your pediatrician if a rash develops. If a sunburn occurs and causes blistering, pain, or fever, contact your child’s pediatrician.
The sun is shining, the temperatures are rising, and your kids are chanting, “I want to go outside!” That’s right; it’s officially time to trade in those bulky winter jackets and snow boots for oh-so-cute summer hats and your kid’s favorite pair of sunglasses.
But, there’s another summer staple you know is necessary, and it’s more than deserving of a little time and research: sunscreen. 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.
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, spray or mist sunscreens can 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.
Best Sunscreen for Kids Who Swim
Between backyard swimming lessons, afternoons spent at the local pool, and neighborhood water fights, there are plenty of ways for kids to have fun this summer—and get sopping wet. Make sure your child’s sunscreen is up for the impending soaking by picking the best sunscreen for kids who swim.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) notes that sunscreens are labeled "water resistant" (not waterproof) and should state whether the sunscreen stays effective for 40 or 80 minutes when swimming or sweating. Also, all sunscreens will be required to give directions on when to reapply. Sunscreens that provide water-resistant protection for up to 80 minutes, like Thinksport Kids Safe SPF 50+ Sunscreen Lotion ($13; target.com), allow parents to take a deep breath knowing their kid is protected with the highest level of water resistance.
Best Sunscreen for Kids Who Are in Sports
Soccer, baseball, softball, the list can go on, but one thing’s for sure: summertime can be packed with sports-related activities. This is a sun-exposure time often forgotten by parents because somebody else (the coach) is “in charge” of the kiddos. The best beach and sport sunscreens for kids are those that can pack easily, go on quickly, and work effectively.
For kids’ faces on the field and parents faces in the stands, the COOLA Suncare Sport Tint Mineral Sunscreen Stick ($26; nordstrom.com) is ideal. It has an SPF of 50 and tosses quickly and easily into a sports bag for when your family is on-the-go. Kids and parents alike will appreciate the tint that helps make sure there is zero white residue to give you that “ghostly pale” look. For the rest of your child’s body, use a high-performance sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above to cover any remaining exposed skin, such as Coppertone Sport Sunscreen Lotion ($7; walmart.com). For kids who are sweating on the field or in the backyard, it stays water resistant for 80 minutes and won’t affect their grip.
As mentioned earlier, spray, or mist sunscreens tend to be popular with busy families who are always on the run and in need of a fast application before baseball practice or a soccer game. Again, this type of application is not always recommended because, though convenient, spray or mist sunscreen maybe not be evenly put on or applied at all. If you do opt for spray or mist sunscreens, use caution, as lung irritation can also occur, and do not use it around the face or mouth. If and when applying, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends you spray it first on your hands and rub into the skin to ensure it adequately covers where you intend.
Best Sunscreen for Kids with Sensitive Skin
If you have a child with sensitive skin, you know the importance of finding that perfect sunscreen that won’t cause irritation. You more than likely also know to avoid any sunscreens with fragrances because they can be linked to unwelcoming side effects, especially for kiddos with sensitive skin.
The best sunscreen for kids and babies with eczema are those that have been awarded the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance, such as the Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Sunscreen ($10; target.com). This broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 50 has one ingredient: 100 percent naturally sourced zinc oxide. Not only is it as effective as mineral sunscreen lotion, but its nongreasy formula has been clinically shown to be as gentle as water on your baby’s skin while still being water resistant for 80 minutes. It’s also fragrance-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free, and dye-free.
Best Sunscreen for Kids and the Environment
This category might seem a little “out there” at first, but it turns out chemicals in your sunscreen can damage fragile coral reefs. Research has shown that 4,000 to 6,000 TONS of sunscreen enter reef areas annually, and it concentrates on favorite tourist sites. It is estimated that 90 percent of snorkeling and diving tourists are concentrated on 10 percent of the world’s reefs, our most popular reefs, meaning the impacts of sunscreen on our coral reefs should not go ignored.
Now, there’s no sunscreen that is totally “reef-friendly.” That said, the best sunscreen for kids who are budding marine biologists tend to be the best ones for the coral reefs as well because they too contain gentler compounds, such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide as active ingredients.
If you are steering clear of the world’s precious coral reefs, but still want to be earth-friendly in your choice of kids’ sunscreen, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) offers the best scoring sunscreen lotions for kids.
Best Sunscreen for Babies
The best sunscreen for baby is one that is used appropriately for their age, tested properly for sensitive skin or allergies, and trusted by caregivers. There are many sunscreens available for baby, so to help narrow your search consider asking your doctor if Babyganics Mineral-Based Baby Sunscreen Lotion ($10; target.com), a hypoallergenic formula that’s also tear-free, is right for your baby.
Because your baby’s skin is more delicate and thinner than an adult’s, it can easily burn and irritate, making both you and your little one miserable. Because babies can’t communicate if they are feeling too hot or beginning to sunburn, it makes it that much more important to use an appropriate sunscreen and reapply it diligently if baby’s skin is exposed to the sun.
Before slathering sun protection on your little bundle of joy, there are many ways besides SPF you can and should use to protect their skin. When outside with babies ages 6 months and younger, you should always keep them out of direct sunlight and preferably under a shade tree, umbrella, or the canopy of a stroller. Dress infants in clothing that is breathable and light but also has a tight weave so as not to let sunlight through. Some clothing on the market today is even sun-protective; you just have to look for the label that indicates an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). Hats are another fabulous and adorable way to keep sunlight off that cute-as-a-button nose and out of their eyes.
If you feel the need to use sunscreen for your 6-month-old or younger baby, apply it on small areas of the body and remember that it can take 30 minutes for sunscreen to work. That said, sunscreen may give a false sense of security in such young children and shouldn’t be relied on in place of protection from direct sunlight.
Hari Cheryl Sachs, M.D., a pediatrician at the FDA, addresses whether you should put sunscreen on infants and states that “babies’ skin is less mature compared to adults, and infants have a higher surface-area to body-weight ratio compared to older children and adults.” She goes on to explain that because of these two factors, an infant’s exposure to the chemicals in sunscreens may be much greater, increasing the risk of side effects from the sunscreen.
For babies that are older than 6 months of age, the AAP says parents should apply sunscreen to all areas of the body, but just mind the eye area because kiddos can rub the sunscreen into their eyes.
The FDA also states that if your child exhibits symptoms such as fussiness, redness, and excessive crying, these could be warning signs of sunburn or dehydration. Immediately get out of the sun and apply a cold compress to the exposed area