The Best Sunscreens for Babies and Kids, According to Dermatologists
Your child’s skin is delicate, so of course you want to protect it. But how do you find a sunscreen that won’t irritate your son’s eczema? Or one that you can actually apply on your squirmy 2-year-old? With so many different options available (and so much jargon on the label), it can be hard to pick the safest one for your kid. That’s why we tapped a network of doctors to get their expert recommendations for the best sunscreens for babies.
But first: Can a baby be “too young” for sunscreen?
Pediatricians recommend keeping infants under six months old out of direct sun as much as possible, since their skin is not yet protected by melanin. But if you do go out in the sun, use physical barriers (like clothing and umbrellas) rather than lotions to protect these young babies from the sun’s harmful rays.
Once your kid hits the six-month mark, docs advise using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, along with the protective measures mentioned above. Apply sunscreen generously to your child’s exposed skin, making sure to reapply every two hours (or more often, if your baby is spending time in the water).
So far, so good. But what about decoding all that writing on the bottle?
Dr. Roy Benaroch breaks it down for us. When it comes to sunscreen, there are two categories: chemical and mineral. “What are usually called ‘chemical’ sunscreens are very effective and cosmetically, they are considered more appealing.” (In other words, they won’t leave any white streaks on your face...or your car seat.) “But they may be more irritating. There’s also concern that because these are absorbed into the body, it’s more likely that there may be some kind of long-lasting effect. Alternatively, families can choose ‘mineral sunscreens,’ including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These sit on top of the skin and aren’t absorbed. They may leave more of a white sheen on the skin and may be a little more difficult to apply and spread evenly, but they provide very good protection,” says Dr. Benaroch.
Which ingredients should we absolutely avoid?
Each year, The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases their recommendations for the best sunscreens for kids, taking into account ingredient hazards and UV protection. According to EWG analyst Carla Burns, oxybenzone is one of the ingredients that parents should avoid. “Oxybenzone is easily absorbed through the skin and has known health hazards associated with it, such as skin sensitization and hormone disruption,” she tells us. She also says that parents should look out for retinyl palmitate, also known as retinol or vitamin A.
If all that sounds confusing, don’t fret. We’ve done the work for you. Below, seven dermatologist-approved picks for your summer of fun.
This parent-favorite was singled out by not one but three of the dermatologists we spoke with, and it’s endorsed by the National Eczema Association. “This one is wonderful and offers consistent sun protection while being soothing and gentle on baby skin—it’s a great staple for both adults and children,” says Dr. Gretchen Frieling. “It’s 21.6 percent zinc (a natural substance), so it’s purely a physical blocker which means that it blocks the sun from going in the skin cells,” adds Dr. Morgan Rabach (who also revealed that she uses it on her three daughters). And moms love that it goes on smoothly, doesn't leave kids skin feeling sticky and has no distinct odor.
Parents bringing their children to the kiddie pool can rest assured that this spray will retain its SPF strength in water for up to 80 minutes. “This water-resistant, non-allergenic, tear-free and physical-blocking (i.e., mineral-based) sunshield will protect your child’s delicate skin without causing any irritation,” Dr. Frieling tells us. And as any mama knows, applying sunscreen on a wriggly toddler means that inevitably some of it will end up in their eyes (oops). But with this gentle formula, the only tears shed will be when it’s time to go home from the beach.
Enriched with antioxidants and vitamin E, this gentle sunscreen for kids is ideal for sensitive skin. It’s dermatologist-tested and is paraben-, oil-, and fragrance-free while protecting against UVA and UVB rays, too. Moms tell us that it doesn’t irritate sensitive skin. It’s also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
“Blue Lizard Baby is a physical sunscreen with broad spectrum protection without chemicals, parabens or fragrances,” says Dr. Annie Chiu. “It also absorbs quite nicely and causes no allergic reactions,” she adds. “This goes on a little bit thinner than the Neutrogena sunscreen,” adds Dr. Rabach, who says it’s good for applying all over the body. Extra cool feature? The bottle turns pink in harmful UV light, reminding parents that it’s time to reapply (and making it an excellent choice for those long, lazy days at the beach).
“There's no mess, no fragrance—you just swipe it on their little faces and go,” raves one mom. “I love this sunscreen when I'm in a rush but want to make sure my daughter's skin is protected.” Because we’ve all had a bottle of cream explode in our beach bag. Dr. Cybele Fishman rates this one for its high SPF with 20 percent zinc oxide, plus the fact that it’s free of parabens, phthalates, dyes and fragrance. “The price point is also fair,” she tells us. “Some sunscreens are so expensive, but this is something you should use a lot of, every time you are out. That makes for a lot of bottles over the summer, and kids are already expensive!” For many parents, the brand’s vegan and cruelty-free ethos is another important factor. But derms caution that it can be hard to get adequate coverage with sticks, so make sure you apply enough cream (even if your kid is a wriggler).
6. Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Zinc Oxide Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50Best Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin
“Fortified with soothing colloidal oatmeal, this sunscreen keeps baby's skin barrier well-hydrated and protected,” says Dr. Frieling. And moms agree. “If your child's skin breaks out easily, this is the sunscreen for you,” one mom raves. “My friend's daughter seems to get a rash from just being in the vicinity of anything fragranced or lotion-y, but she can wear this without a problem.” Parents also say it glides on smoothly and can be used by the entire family (even on everyone’s faces since the gentle formula won’t irritate eyes).
Here’s the thing about spray sunscreens: Most docs don’t actually recommend them, but parents know that they are significantly easier to apply on impatient children that just can’t wait to jump in the pool. “In general, I don't like sunscreen sprays, because I worry about the kids breathing them in and I’m concerned that patients won’t use enough to give them the SPF protection on the bottle,” says Dr. Fishman. “But I am also a realist and it’s hard putting cream sunscreen on wriggling kids—sprays are easy for parents and people like them. I would rather someone actually use a spray they like than not use a lotion they don't like. This one is a mineral sunscreen, which is hard to find in a spray, water resistant for up to 80 minutes and contains no parabens or phthalates.” As an added bonus, it’s also vegan and contains anti-inflammatory ingredients like jojoba seed oil and rosemary leaf extract.