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Sunscreen is typically synonymous with summertime, swimming pools, and sunshine, but it’s important to use throughout the year. As long as the sun’s ultraviolet rays reach our planet, the chance of skin damage is real.

Sunscreen is vital to protecting kids’ sensitive skin. Children have extra sensitive skin that’s more susceptible to damage from the sun’s rays and is more likely to be irritated by chemicals.

That’s why choosing the right sunscreen is key for keeping the whole family safe no matter if you’re spending summer at the pool, taking an autumn hike, or skiing in the winter.

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 increased risk of skin cancer.

Most sun damage occurs during childhood, 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 ultraviolet 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. Sunscreen designed for children 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. Wearing wide-brimmed hats and sun-protective clothing, seeking shade, and avoiding sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are all great ways to prevent harm from the sun’s rays.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t recommend sunscreen for infants under 6 months of age. Infants should have their skin covered by hats and loose, long-sleeved clothing or be kept out of the sun whenever possible, such as under an umbrella or shady tree, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

For older babies and children, there are a few things to keep in mind.

SPF

Sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 is the minimum recommended by the AAP — although the AAD suggests using SPF 30 or higher. “Choose at least SPF 30 with broad-spectrum protection, which means it blocks both UVA and UVB rays,” advises Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.

No additional benefit has been shown for SPFs higher than 50.

Mineral formulas

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 being absorbed into the skin.

While most sunscreen ingredients are either considered generally safe or are undergoing further research, you should try to avoid sunscreens with the ingredient oxybenzone. This chemical may have hormonal properties, says the AAP.

Sunscreen type

Sunscreens for kids come in a few options, like lotions, sprays, and sticks. So which is best? “Lotions or creams help ensure uniform coverage on the body, so those are preferred,” says Dr. Joyce Teng, chief scientific officer of Evereden and head of pediatric dermatology at Stanford Medical School. If you opt for the convenience of a spray, she recommends applying it to one part of the body at a time and rubbing it in evenly so you don’t miss a spot.

“For the face, either lotion, cream, or a stick is a good option so small children can get good protection over the nose, ears, and area close to their eyes.”

Water resistance

Water-resistant sunscreens are ideal for kids, who often prefer to spend their warm 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 2 hours while you’re outside.

We consulted dermatologists for their input and recommendations. We also 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, offering:

  • broad-spectrum coverage
  • a minimum SPF of 30
  • no known harmful ingredients
  • relatively easy application to wiggly children

There are many decisions to make when it comes to parenting, so we’re here to make this one a little easier. Read on to find the best sunscreen for your kiddo.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $10
  • $$ = $10–$15
  • $$$ = over $15

Best overall

Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 50+
  • Sunscreen type: lotion

This mineral sunscreen lotion from Thinkbaby gets top marks all around, and it was a favorite of the parents we surveyed. According to kids, it “smells good” and rubs in much more easily than many other zinc oxide products. If you don’t want a bunch of little ghosts in your pics, this is a great choice.

It has an SPF of 50, highly rated ingredient safety, logs a maximum water resistance at 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.

Best for sensitive skin

Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Zinc Oxide Sunscreen

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 50
  • Sunscreen type: lotion

“This all-mineral sunscreen is a great option for kids’ sensitive skin,” says Zeichner. “Besides broad-spectrum UV protection, it contains oat extract to soothe, protect, and calm the skin.”

Boasting the National Eczema Association (NEA) Seal of Acceptance, this sensitive skin sunscreen lotion is SPF 50 and uses zinc oxide for protection. 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,” as reported by customers.

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.

Best for eczema

CeraVe Baby Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen

  • Price: $$$
  • SPF: 45
  • Sunscreen type: lotion

CeraVe is a brand that comes highly recommended by dermatologists, and their mineral baby sunscreen gets top marks for being friendly to sensitive skin, including little ones with eczema.

An active ingredient in this sunscreen is hyaluronic acid, which has many benefits such as locking moisture into the skin’s cells. If your child has eczema, you know how important moisture is when it comes to easing uncomfortable feelings of dryness.

“This sunscreen uses mineral protection in a formula that contains ceramides,” says Zeichner, “which are natural fats found in the outer skin layer that fill in cracks between skin cells and maintain a healthy skin barrier.” The sunscreen, which is on the pricier side, uses three types of ceramides. Like hyaluronic acid, they lock moisture into the cells, helping to repair skin that’s irritated by eczema.

These ingredients, combined with the sunscreen’s fragrance-free, oil-free, dye-free formula, make this an excellent choice for little ones with dry skin or those who experience eczema.

Best budget-friendly buy

Coppertone Pure & Simple Kids

  • Price: $
  • SPF: 50
  • Sunscreen type: lotion

Sometimes it just feels good to go with a household name brand like Coppertone — especially when the price is right. Zeichner agrees. “You don’t have to pay a lot to get a great sunscreen. This drugstore brand carries a low price tag but gives high levels of SPF 50 UV protection.”

Coppertone’s 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 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.

Best for on the go

Babo Botanicals Baby Face Mineral Sunscreen Stick

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 50
  • Sunscreen type: stick

Stick sunscreen is arguably the easiest way to get sunscreen onto squirmy little faces, and this mineral sunscreen stick from Babo Botanicals contains a 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.

Best spray

Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc Sunscreen for Extra Sensitive Skin

  • Price: $$$
  • SPF: 30
  • Sunscreen type: spray

Although it seems like the easiest way to coat a wiggly 2-year-old, spray-on sunscreen isn’t ideal for babies or younger children. The ingredients in sunscreen are good for the skin, but not great for inhaling, notes the AAD, and asking small children 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, for older kids, it’s 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 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.

Best stick sunscreen

Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen Stick

  • Price: $
  • SPF: 60
  • Sunscreen type: stick

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 beaten.

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 one delivers mineral protection in a formula that fully rubs in without leaving behind a white cast on the skin,” says Zeichner.

The SPF 60 broad-spectrum sunscreen stick from Neutrogena is mineral-based and free from harmful ingredients. It is also fragrance-free and has the NEA Seal of Acceptance, so it is unlikely to irritate your little person’s sensitive skin.

Best for travel

Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Stick

  • Price: $
  • SPF: 50
  • Sunscreen type: stick

Another great choice for easy application, Aveeno’s baby sunscreen stick is highly ranked by parents for being sensitive-skin-friendly. It’s also fragrance- and oil-free and features the NEA Seal of Acceptance. The stick form makes it easy to throw in a bag, keep in a glove box, or take in a suitcase without worrying it will leak.

This option is SPF 50 and water-resistant for 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.

Best all-natural formula

Badger Baby Broad Spectrum Natural Mineral Sunscreen Cream

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 30
  • Sunscreen type: lotion

While sporting a hefty price tag, 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), all of which are organic, biodegradable, reef-friendly, and non-GMO. If natural ingredients are your top priority, this is a good choice.

“This ultra simple formula is effective and uses all-natural ingredients,” says Zeichner. “Besides UV protection from zinc oxide, the sunscreen protects and hydrates the skin with vitamin E, sunflower oil, and beeswax.”

Worth noting: This sunscreen has one of the lower SPFs on our list, coming in at SPF 30. It’s only water-resistant for up to 40 minutes, so you’ll want to make sure you reapply frequently if your kiddo is playing in the water.

Best scent

Babyganics SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion

  • Price: $$
  • SPF: 50
  • Sunscreen type: lotion

An economical choice, 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. Its raspberry scent is subtle and, if you like scents, a nice addition to the usual smell of sunscreen.

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.

Best fragrance-free formula

Kabana Organic Green Screen Original Sunscreen

  • Price: $$$
  • SPF: 32
  • Sunscreen type: lotion

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 eight ingredients and uses non-nano zinc oxide to provide broad-spectrum coverage with an SPF of 32.

Easiest to apply

Evereden Premium Mineral Sunscreen

  • Price: $$$
  • SPF: 30
  • Sunscreen type: lotion

This reef-friendly, mineral-based sunscreen lotion is quick absorbing, thanks to nourishing ingredients like sunflower and jojoba oils. “Unlike some of the all-mineral sunscreens that are thick and difficult to rub in, this sunscreen is easy to apply,” says Teng. She says the formula uses non-nano zinc and a proprietary blend of superfoods that help maintain skin hydration without leaving behind a tacky feel.

It’s also non-streaky with no white cast, and parents and kids alike enjoy the light cucumber scent.

The typical recommendation for adults is about 1 ounce of sunscreen, which is about one shot glass. “Children need at least half this amount,” says Teng. Make sure to rub sunscreen in evenly on any exposed skin, as well as spots that are just under the clothing line, such as around shirt collars and sleeves.

Teng advises applying sunscreen to your children before they leave the house so the sunscreen absorbs before they spend time in the sun.

Regular reapplication is also key. “Always remember to re-apply at least every 2 hours,” she says.

“Sun protection is so important in kids because the sunburns you get when you are young will increase your likelihood of developing skin cancers later in life,” says Zeichner. But sun safety means more than just sunscreen.

Small children should wear hats with wide rims when they spend time in the sun. Covering up with sun-protective clothing is also a good idea, particularly at midday when UV rays are at their strongest. During these peak hours, keeping children indoors or in shady spots is best.

Kid-sized sunglasses with UV protection will help protect your child’s eyes.

What is the best sunscreen for kids?

In short, the best sunscreen is the one that you’ll use. If you travel or your kids play sports, this might mean placing a sunscreen stick in the glove compartment of the car and one in your purse. If you will not use sunscreens with chemicals or fragrances, be sure to keep your favorite mineral sunscreen in your bag.

You should pick an option that’s best applicable to your lifestyle.

What’s the difference between kids’ and babies’ sunscreen?

Baby skin is more sensitive, so sunscreens marketed for them are typically mineral based, as they are less irritating,” says Teng. “As children get older, they may tolerate chemical blockers, so you will see more chemical sunscreens with water-resistant claims and higher SPFs.”

She says that the FDA doesn’t recommend sunscreen for babies under 6 months of age. “Children at this age should be protected with shade and protective clothing.”

Who should use sunscreen?

The AAD recommends that all children wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. There is a myth that claims children with darker skin do not need to wear sunscreen. While darker skin has more sun-protective melanin, it can get painfully sunburned, too. Keep babies younger than 6 months old out of the direct sun.

How much sunscreen do I need to apply?

According to the AAD, most people do not apply as much sunscreen as they should.

You should apply enough sunscreen to cover all skin that clothing does not cover. Most adults need about 1 ounce — or enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their bodies. Kids need about half that amount.

Don’t forget those easy-to-forget areas like the lips and tops of ears.

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 sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage (at least SPF 30), your kids should be good to go on their next outdoor adventure.