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While protection from the sun is actually important all year long, many of us start thinking about sunscreen as the weather warms up and we flock outdoors.
As summer weather approaches, your little ones may be spending extra time outside. But kids and babies have extra sensitive skin that’s more susceptible to sunburns and more likely to be irritated by chemicals.
That’s why choosing the right sunscreen is key for keeping the whole family safe and happy while having fun in the sun.
The purpose of sunscreen is to prevent painful sunburns, as well as to prevent the long-term side effects of sun damage, such as premature aging and, most alarmingly, increased risk of skin cancer.
Most sun damage occurs during childhood, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), so it’s extra important to protect your little one’s skin from the sun — it will benefit them for a lifetime!
A quick ray refresher
The sun emits two different types of rays: UVA and UVB. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), both types of rays can lead to skin cancer. UVB rays are responsible for sunburns, while UVA rays cause deeper, longer-term damage that leads to premature skin aging. Sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum” helps protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
Sunscreen performs the same function whether it’s labeled for kids or adults. For instance, broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen for kids will provide the same level of protection as broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen for adults. The active ingredients are often the same.
The biggest difference (besides the cute packaging) is that kids’ sunscreen is formulated with sensitive skin in mind, so it is less likely to have irritating ingredients or chemicals in it. Kids’ sunscreen may also come in more water-resistant or easy application options.
While sunscreen is very important, experts agree that additional measures are needed to protect your kiddo from sun damage. Wide-brimmed hats, sun-protective clothing, seeking shade, and avoiding sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are all great ways to prevent harm from the sun’s rays.
For older babies and children, sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 is the minimum recommended — although the American Academy of Dermatology suggests using SPF 30 or higher. No additional benefit has been shown for SPFs higher than 50.
Mineral sunscreens, which contain active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are the most highly recommended for children as they are less irritating for sensitive skin.
They also minimize the risk of harmful chemical exposure, as these minerals sit on top of the skin to block the sun’s rays, rather than absorbing into the skin.
While most sunscreen ingredients are either considered generally safe or are undergoing further research, the AAP does recommend avoiding sunscreens with the ingredient oxybenzone. This chemical may have hormonal properties that are more likely to affect children.
Water-resistant sunscreens are ideal for kids, who often prefer to spend their summer days in the pool, playing with water, or generally working up a sweat.
However, no sunscreen is truly waterproof and should be reapplied plentifully and often when outdoors. The AAD recommends reapplying sunscreen 15 minutes before you go outside, and every two hours while you’re outside.
We pored over reviews, polled parents, and even tested products ourselves to bring you a list of top sunscreens for your child. We made sure each of these products follow the expert guidelines to provide broad-spectrum coverage, have a minimum SPF of 30, are free of known harmful ingredients, and are relatively easy to apply to wiggly children.
There are a lot of decisions to make when it comes to parenting, so we’re here to make this one a little easier. Read on, and get ready to head outside!
- $ = under $10
- $$ = $10–$15
- $$$ = over $15
Boasting the National Eczema Association’s (NEA) Seal of Approval, this sensitive skin sunscreen lotion is SPF 50 and uses zinc oxide to protect the skin. While it is a little harder to rub in (leaving a white cast) than some of our other choices, it is non-greasy and doesn’t have a “sunscreen smell.”
Parents felt it left their little one’s skin softer and did not irritate those with sensitive skin or even eczema. To top it off, this is one of the least expensive and most highly rated products on our list, which is a win!
CeraVe is a brand that comes highly recommended by dermatologists, and their mineral baby sunscreen gets top marks for being friendly to sensitive skin.
It’s fragrance-free, all natural, and contains ceramides that are helpful for moisturizing and repairing skin that is irritated by eczema. While on the pricier side, parents of little ones with eczema may find this a beneficial choice for sun protection.
Sometimes it just feels good to go with a household name brand like Coppertone — especially when the price is right. Their Pure & Simple formula is made with zinc oxide and natural botanicals (like tea leaf and sea kelp), and is free of fragrance and oxybenzone.
Providing SPF 50 broad-spectrum protection and water resistance for 80 minutes, this sunscreen is well loved by parents with a few exceptions: a handful of folks say the formula is too runny for them, and others say it takes a long time for it to rub in and not leave a white sheen.
This mineral sunscreen lotion from Thinkbaby actually gets top marks all around and it was a favorite out of parents we surveyed. The reason we chose it particularly in the “best for faces” category is that (according to kids) it “smells good” and it rubs in much more easily than many other zinc oxide products — if you don’t want a bunch of little ghosts in your summer pics, this is a great choice.
It has an SPF of 50, highly rated ingredient safety, the max water resistance of 80 minutes, and it’s reef friendly. Many adults with sensitive skin also use this sunscreen for their faces, as it’s a light and absorbable formula with skin-friendly ingredients.
Stick sunscreen is arguably the easiest way to get sunscreen onto squirmy little faces, and this mineral sunscreen stick from Babo Botanicals contains a super-gentle formula that’s great for sensitive facial skin. It contains mostly organic ingredients, has an SPF of 50, and is fragrance-free.
Many parents love the smooth application and not fussing with sticky lotion. While the price is a little high for its tiny size, this stick should last a while if you’re only using it on your little one’s face.
Although its seems like the easiest way to coat a wiggly 2-year-old, spray-on sunscreen is not recommended for babies or younger children. The ingredients in sunscreen are good for the skin, but not great for inhaling, and asking them to hold their breath is sometimes an impossible task. It’s also harder to be sure you’ve applied the product evenly, so you may end up missing areas that will get burned.
However, especially for older kids, it is hard to beat the less-mess application of spray sunscreen. Our top pick in this category is the Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc Sunscreen. It goes on clear (a lot of zinc products leave a white tint behind), is gentle on sensitive skin, contains all-natural ingredients, and is environmentally friendly.
This eco-conscious choice comes with a considerably higher price tag than some other spray options, but it can be purchased in a more budget-friendly two-pack.
While stick sunscreen options may not be as economical due to their small size (most are around a half ounce or less), they’re certainly convenient for tossing in your bag on-the-go, and their ease of use cannot be beat. It’s hard to keep energetic kids still long enough to rub a bunch of lotion in, and a stick can make sunscreen application that much faster.
This SPF 60 broad-spectrum sunscreen stick from Neutrogena is mineral based and free of harmful ingredients. It is also fragrance-free, and has the NEA seal of approval, so it is unlikely to irritate your little person’s sensitive skin.
Another great choice for easy application, Aveeno’s baby sunscreen stick is highly ranked by parents and is also sensitive-skin friendly, being fragrance- and oil-free, and featuring the NEA seal of approval.
This option is SPF 50 and water resistant up to 80 minutes. There’s nothing not to like, besides the fact that you might have to stock up so you don’t run out of these pocket-sized sticks.
While sporting a fairly hefty price tag (more than $15 for a 3-ounce tube), this sunscreen cream from Badger also provides a host of benefits that we hardly found in any other product when it comes to ingredient safety.
This cream has only five ingredients (including the sun-blocking zinc oxide and vitamin E, sunflower oil, and beeswax), all of which are organic, biodegradable, reef friendly, and non-GMO. If natural ingredients are your top priority, this is a good choice.
Worth noting: This sunscreen has one of the lower SPFs on our list, coming in at SPF 30. It’s only water resistant up to 40 minutes, so you’ll want to make sure you reapply frequently if your kiddo is playing in the water.
A more economical choice (typically around $14 for two 6-ounce tubes), this SPF 50 sunscreen uses the minerals octisalate, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide to block the sun’s rays. A seed oil blend that’s kind to your little one’s skin completes the formula.
This sunscreen is highly rated by parents for ease of application, not having a funky smell, price, and feel-good ingredients. Plus, a high water resistance rating of up to 80 minutes means you won’t have to worry about reapplying quite as often as some other products.
Another great choice when it comes to natural ingredients (and being allergy friendly!) is Kabana’s Green Screen Original. It features mostly organic ingredients, is reef friendly and biodegradable, and claims to be gluten-free, vegan, corn-free, and fragrance-free. It contains only 8 ingredients, and uses non-nano zinc oxide to provide broad-spectrum coverage with an SPF of 32.
Thankfully, there are a lot of proven sunscreen options so your kids can protect their skin while enjoying healthy outdoor activity — it’s a win-win!
In addition to seeking shade and wearing protective hats and clothing, if you follow the expert recommendations for applying a sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage (at least SPF 30), your kids should be good to go on their next outdoor adventure.