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Whether you’re headed to the beach or taking a walk around the block, protection from the sun is important for everyone — and that includes your baby! But your little one has sensitive skin, so picking a sunscreen isn’t always as easy as it is for older children or adults.

Before we move forward, it’s important to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises against using sunscreen on children younger than 6 months.

Instead, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends keeping infants out of the sun with umbrellas and protective clothing. This is because they’re more susceptible to the potential side effects of sunscreen, like rashes and chemical absorption, than adults.

In a word, yes. Aside from getting a nasty and painful sunburn, the harmful ultraviolet A and B (UVA and UVB) rays emitted by the sun can lead to long-term skin damage. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, skin damage can start to show as early as 4 years old and may eventually lead to premature aging and skin cancer.

It’s important to note that sunscreen isn’t only for the summer months. The sun’s rays still break through cloud cover and can even be enhanced by it.

Windows don’t offer protection either. The rays can still affect a baby’s sensitive young skin while riding in a car.

So, what should you look for in a good baby sunscreen for children 6 months and older? And which brands are best for your baby’s sensitive skin?

While most sunscreen shoppers focus solely on the SPF, or sun protection factor, rating (see below), SPF is only a measure of protection against sunburn, which is generally caused by UVB rays.

You’ll want to find a sunscreen with an adequate level of SPF that’s also labeled as broad-spectrum. The term “broad-spectrum” means that a sunscreen product is designed to protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

Active ingredients

Chemical absorption is a big concern in sunscreens. But zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two mineral-based (not chemical-based) physical filters that are normally gentler on the skin because they don’t need additional chemicals to provide protection.

While mineral sunscreens are heavier and often leave a chalky appearance, chemical products can irritate the skin, especially if the user has an autoimmune condition.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also suggests avoiding a chemical called oxybenzone, which may have hormonal properties.

It’s important to do your own research, but there are a few other common chemical ingredients to avoid. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a great resource for consumer ratings on sunscreens.

In addition to oxybenzone, the EWG says these common ingredients may not be safe for everyone:

  • homosalate, an endocrine disruptor
  • octocrylene, another endocrine disruptor

A European Commission recently found that the levels of homosalate and octocrylene in many sunscreens were not safe.

“U.S. sunscreen manufacturers are legally allowed to use these two chemicals at concentrations up to 6 and 15 percent, respectively, and hundreds of sunscreens manufactured in the U.S. use them at concentrations that far exceed the European Commission’s recommendations,” according to EWG’s website.

SPF

The SPF number signifies the amount of exposure to sunlight you can have with that particular sunscreen — versus no sunscreen — without getting burned. Sunscreen SPF can range from as low as 15 to as high as 100.

However, most medical experts agree that for babies and adults alike, it’s best to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30. While you can opt for higher SPF levels, experts agree that once you go beyond SPF 50, there’s no real enhanced benefit.

Water resistance

If you think you’ll be spending time in the water with your little one, you’ll want to prioritize water resistance. However, buyer beware: No sunscreen is actually waterproof, despite any claims made.

Sweat and water both erode the efficacy of sunscreen, so the FDA no longer allows companies to make a waterproof claim. Sunscreen is also diminished when you towel off.

The FDA allows sunscreens that are designed for 40- and 80-minutes of consistent water exposure to claim that they are water-resistant.

The timeframes for water resistance are determined by FDA testing prior to a sunscreen’s approval. This is the amount of time you can expect the sunscreen to be effective in a pool.

Ease of use

Just like with sunscreen for older children or adults, baby sunscreen comes in a range of formulations, including sprays, sticks, and traditional creams.

If you’re concerned about applying sunscreen on antsy kiddos, you can opt for a stick form since it’s the easiest application method. And while sprays are quick, you need to be sure that the product is being applied properly and evenly to all parts of the skin.

We chose products that fit the above criteria. If you’re a regular sunscreen shopper, you’ll know that sunscreen in any form can come in different sizes. We included products for all budgets and looked at reputable sites to compare, such as the EWG.

Ease of application is important for parents, so we made sure to include some that could be thrown into a bag and applied to your baby last minute or on the go.

Finally, we looked for products that offer broad-spectrum protection, are safe for babies (not just kids), and didn’t contain harmful ingredients that many mass-marketed sunscreens contain.

Pricing

  • $ = under $10
  • $$ = $10–$20
  • $$$ = over $20

Best overall baby sunscreen

Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Stick

  • Price: $
  • SPF: 50

Hands down, a sunscreen stick is going to be easier to apply to your baby’s face (and way less messy) than any other kind of sunscreen. This mineral stick from Aveeno Baby provides SPF 50 protection, is oil-free, and has 80 minutes of water and sweat resistance. Plus, this sunscreen stick features the National Eczema Association’s (NEA) Seal of Acceptance.

This half-ounce size makes it TSA-friendly, but… small. Yes, babies are small, but if you’re looking for a more economical choice, a stick might not be the way to go.

Best hypoallergenic stick formula

Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 60

This baby sunscreen stick from Neutrogena is a classic that’s proven to work and is widely available at drugstores and online. It’s a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers one of the highest SPFs (SPF 60), along with 80-minute water resistance. This product, too, has the NEA’s Seal of Acceptance.

The company uses a blend of minerals, including titanium oxide and zinc oxide, in their Purescreen technology. The website says the minerals are naturally sourced, but it doesn’t give more details on where and how they get specific ingredients.

Again, this stick is a smaller size — at just 0.47 ounces — making it a great option for traveling and slipping into your diaper bag, but it’s also quick to run out.

Best spray

Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc Sunscreen

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 30

Wrangling children can be hard enough on a good day, but slathering them in sunscreen can be an impossible task. A spray is a great way to make this a little bit easier.

Although this has the lowest SPF in our guide, it has a vegan-friendly formula that’s fragrance-free, with 80-minute water and sweat resistance. This broad-spectrum sunscreen is also safe for reefs, making it environmentally friendly. You might also like that this formula is full of skin-loving natural ingredients like sunflower oil, avocado, and jojoba oil.

However, you’ll want to be very thorough when applying this sunscreen, as it’s easy to make mistakes when using sprays. As with most eco-focused sunscreens, this is a more expensive option.

Best for eczema

Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Zinc Oxide Sunscreen

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 50

Like the Aveeno stick on our list, this sunscreen is backed by the NEA and is excellent for protecting babies with sensitive skin. It also seems to be highly backed by parents: Reviews applaud this lotion’s consistency, saying it’s not oily or messy on their kiddos’ skin and that a little goes a long way.

The sunscreen contains skin-soothing oat, and it’s free of fragrances that can cause skin irritation.

A handful of other reviewers comment on liking the “not sunscreeny” scent and claim it soothed their little ones’ eczema and made their skin feel soft. Coming in at under $10 for a 3-ounce tube, this one gets points for affordability, too.

Best affordable buy

Alba Botanica Tropical Fruit Kids Sunscreen

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 45

You don’t have to spend a fortune to get an effective mineral-based, broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s also rated safe for our oceans’ reefs. This sunscreen from Alba Botanica comes in at less than $10 for a 4-ounce bottle.

According to reviews, this formula is lightweight, so it doesn’t leave a greasy feeling. Plus, it provides 80 minutes of water resistance, and all the ingredients are guaranteed to be 100 percent vegetarian.

However, as the name suggests, this sunscreen does have a fruity scent. If you’re particularly sensitive to smells, you might not want to lather your little one in this.

Best fragrance-free formula

Babyganics SPF50+ Sunscreen Lotion

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 50

If you’re the type of family that’s always outdoors, you’ll want a baby sunscreen that’s as economical as it is safe. While this option from Babyganics is pricey at first glance, it’s sold as a two-pack of 6-ounce bottles, making it a great bang-for-your-buck option.

This sunscreen is a traditional cream formula and is free of PABA, phthalates, parabens, fragrance, and nanoparticles. It’s also tear-free, offers 80-minute water resistance, and is full of natural ingredients like tomato, sunflower, cranberry, and raspberry seed oils.

Best eco-friendly formula

Thinkbaby SPF50+ Sunscreen

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 50+

Especially if you plan on swimming in an ocean or lake, you want a baby sunscreen that’s not going to hurt the wildlife that lives there. This sunscreen is a great choice for ecologically minded parents. While it’s one of the pricier options, the EWG rated it a 2. That means it’s one of the best options available, and it has been vetted for potential environmental toxicity.

On top of offering SPF 50+ protection and 80-minute water resistance, this product is cruelty-free, gluten-free, and isn’t an aerosol. Users say it doesn’t have a telltale sunscreen smell or leave an oily residue either.

Best scented formula

Miami Cool Kids LaPlaya Zinc Sun Stick

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 30

OK, this might seem like a weird award. But based on the rave reviews on Amazon from parents, a sunscreen that smells like cake frosting might be just the edge you need to apply your little one’s sunscreen a little easier. Plus, this organic sunscreen stick is a reef-friendly option that’s mineral-based and chemical-free.

It’s worth noting, however, that while this is a top-rated baby sunscreen, the description fails to specify the water-resistance duration. People with darker skin might dislike that this stick leaves a white cast.

Best for activities

Badger Natural Mineral Sunscreen Cream

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 40

This broad-spectrum sunscreen is great for families on the go since it lasts up to 80 minutes. While it’s mainly marketed to kids, the company’s website says that all of their sunscreens, except for its anti-insect formula, can be used on infants over 6 months.

If you don’t mind fragrance, this one has subtle hints of tangerine and vanilla.

A unique characteristic about Badger is that it goes on clear, which is unusual for mineral sunscreens. However, some children (and parents) don’t like the white chalky appearance of mineral sunscreens.

Best for parents and babies

Hello Bello SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 50

This sunscreen is approved for both babies and adults. It protects for 80 minutes against all three UV lengths: A, B, and C. Its active ingredient is zinc oxide, but the formula also contains soothing and moisturizing cocoa seed butter, avocado, cucumber, and chamomile, which are all great for sensitive or dry skin.

The website says this sunscreen is clinically tested, hypoallergenic, and coral reef-friendly, if you’re traveling to any exotic beach locales.

Can a sunscreen for kids be used on an infant?

We looked for products that could be used on babies. Not all kids’ sunscreens are appropriate for an infant’s delicate skin.

Consult a doctor if your child is younger than 6 months. The Food and Drug Administration and American Academy of Pediatrics urge parents to keep children under 6 months out of direct light. Sunscreen should also be used in addition to hats and other SPF-protective clothing when possible.

Who should use sunscreen?

Anyone and everyone needs sunscreen, but especially babies, who have particularly fragile and sensitive skin. All kids, and especially infants, need sun protection.

Don’t miss places like the top of the ears and back of the neck. These spots are often forgotten by caregivers.

What is the best kind of sunscreen for babies?

The best kind is a broad-spectrum formula. Otherwise, the application method depends on your preference and lifestyle. If that means you’re in the car often, opt for a stick that can be thrown in your bag. If you have a child with eczema, get a cream specially formulated for their skin.

There’s a wide range of baby sunscreens that can work for you and your family depending on your budget, the features that matter most to you, and your preferred application method.

Whichever option you choose, just make sure that your baby’s sunscreen is meeting the minimum guidelines as recommended by medical experts: a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30. Be sure to reapply every 2 hours, and you’ll be set to have plenty of fun in the sun.