baby in the sun

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Slather on the sunscreen and you’ll prevent a host a problems, from the pain of sunburn to early wrinkles, right?

Well, maybe.

Sunscreen brands are not all created equal and neither are their ingredients. It pays to pay attention to what you are putting on your little ones before they head outdoors.

Why Is Sunscreen Important?

So who should be thinking about sunscreen? Everyone — no matter your skin tone. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends sunscreen for all people, regardless of race or ethnicity.

Your Skin Cancer Risk
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 20 percent of Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. That means we should all take steps to protect ourselves.

By the way, there’s no real difference between the sunscreens labeled as kid-friendly or just for kids. Never hesitate to put adult sunscreen on your child or use your child’s sunscreen — it’s all basically the same thing, but certain milder products are best for babies’ sensitive skin.

The Importance of Covering Up

It’s important to know that doctors recommend that babies under 6 months stay out of the sun completely.

Keep your baby fully covered while outdoors during those first months because their skin simply isn’t ready to manage the effects of the sun’s rays. Their sweet, delicate skin is also not ready to handle the ingredients in sunscreen. The best sun protection for your infant is to prevent exposure by staying under cover.

Once your baby is older than 6 months, both of you are probably looking to have some outdoor adventures. It’s possible to get some exposure, safely, but don’t cut corners on covering up.

What Should You Look for in Sunscreen?

The easiest products out there are spray-on sunscreens.

But Consumer Reports, the not-for-profit magazine that investigates products, recommends against using sprays on children because of the risk of inhalation. The sprays may be quick and easy to apply, but even adults should spray sunscreen into their hands before rubbing it on faces to ensure the sunscreen doesn’t just blow away in the breeze.

So what kind of sunscreen should you use on your baby? It depends, partly, on what sort of activity you are planning. Nearly every expert out there recommends a full-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Both types of rays damage your skin and both have been shown to cause cancer.

What’s the SPF?

Also, look for a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 but no higher than SPF 50. SPF — or sun protection factor — is the number that indicates approximately how long you are protected in the sun before needing to reapply. For example, SPF 15 should allow you to stay in the sun 15 times longer before burning.

The Food and Drug Administration has found no proof that sunscreens labeled higher than SPF 50 actually provide any additional protection.

Consumer Reports’ testing indicated that many sunscreen products overestimate their actual SPF coverage. Be sure to reapply sunscreens often, especially on or near water, even if you think you are using a strong product. It’s also important to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure.

Is It Waterproof?

Waterproof sunscreens are a must if your baby will be playing in the pool. Water-resistant sunscreens provide protection for about 40 minutes in water but they protect for about 80 minutes, a significant difference.

What Are the Ingredients?

Another consideration is the ingredients in your sunscreen choice. Chemical sunscreens, with ingredient names like oxybenzone and sulisobenzone, are believed to cause a chemical reaction that prevents damage from UVA and UVB rays in your, and your baby’s, skin.

Chemical sunscreens are typically invisible on the skin and most won’t rub off and stain your clothing. On the other hand, there is concern that chemical sunscreens can be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause health problems, but there is little conclusive research on those concerns just yet.

Physical sunscreens, like zinc and titanium dioxide, actually create a barrier on the skin that block, or scatter, the sun’s rays. They tend to be chalkier because they actually are crushed rocks, and they may get on your clothing, but they are naturally occurring products.

There’s concern that the smoothest physical sunscreens, using very finely crushed rock particles, may be entering the bloodstream — but again, the research is inconclusive at this point.

The Recommended Sunscreens

Here are the sunscreens we recommend for your little one. They have high ratings with organizations like Consumer Reports, parenting and health bloggers, and consumer advocates.

Alba Botanica Very Emollient Mineral Sunscreen

There are several versions of this sunscreen, including one for kids and one that is water-resistant. It makes a number of the lists we consulted. The ingredients raise few concerns, but the UVA/UVB protection received good ratings.

Buy it here.

Aveeno

Aveeno’s sun protection products make several lists, so try Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Mineralblock. It comes in a stick for easy application. You can easily throw it into any bag and get it onto your baby quickly when you need to.

Buy it here.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios

Their SPF 40 Sunscreen Cream with Mexoryl SX is one of the more expensive options, but it tops lists for doing the job it claims it will do: having good protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and minimal concern about its ingredients.

Buy it here.

MDSolarSciences Mineral Creme Sunscreen

Their SPF 50 option gets very high ratings for its protection and its ingredients. The line was created by dermatologists and most of the products are fragrance-free, which is good for baby. Some reviewers warn that MDSolarSciences will take a little work to wash off the skin.

Buy it here.

No-Ad Sport

The SPF 50 option is ranked well among testers for consistently having the SPF it claims to have, and for being a very good buy.

Buy it here.

The Takeaway

No matter what product you choose, reapply often, give yourself breaks from the sun, and stay in the shade between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Your baby, and their healthy skin, will thank you!