We all know that outdoors is one of the best places for kids to be. But if you’re not careful, it can also be the most dangerous. The sun’s rays that reach your baby’s sensitive skin can not only cause an uncomfortable burn but also put them at risk for long-term damage.
But what about sunscreen? No doubt you’ve heard many of the concerns about potentially harmful chemicals in those, too.
So what’s a concerned mama to do?
Here’s everything you need to know about how to choose the best formulation, along with recommendations that fit your baby’s unique needs.
Our Top Baby Sunscreen Picks of 2018Read Full Reviews
Why Should Your Baby Use Sunscreen?
The sun’s rays emit ultraviolet light that causes sunburns, skin damage, and contributes to skin cancer. Children are particularly susceptible since one major sunburn during childhood can double their risk of melanoma (skin cancer) during adulthood (source).
There are two types of ultraviolet light: UVA and UVB, and both are damaging. UVA rays penetrate the deeper levels of the skin (the dermis) and cause damage to the cell’s DNA. UVB rays cause sunburns and also increase your risk of skin cancer (source).
Using sunscreen (especially broad-spectrum products, which blocks both UVA and UVB rays) stops harmful rays from being absorbed into your baby’s skin, preventing both burns and long-term sun damage.
What Should I Know About Sunscreen?
One of the most significant factors to consider is the sun protection factor, shortened to “SPF” on the labels of most bottles. While there are some technical calculations about how long a particular “SPF” number will allow you to remain in the sun unscathed, the reality is that it’s never exact — the intensity of the UV rays differ by time and location (source).
The consensus is that you should choose a minimum SPF of 15. The higher the number, the greater the protection — although it’s not necessarily incremental. No level blocks 100% of the sun’s rays, and studies have shown that numbers above 30 provide little extra protection (source).
What’s important with sunscreen use is not to become complacent. Don’t allow a high SPF number to trick you into thinking your little one is permanently protected all day. Instead, apply liberally about 15-30 minutes before you plan to be in the sun, and every 2 hours after that — regardless of SPF level.
When Do I Need to Use It?
Every time your child is outside, they should be protected from the sun. Regardless of temperature or cloud cover, ultraviolet rays from the sun can always reach your child’s skin (source).
During cooler temps, your child’s body is often covered, and the sun doesn’t feel as intense. While it’s true that UV rays aren’t as strong in the winter, it’s still wise to slather it on all exposed skin throughout the year, as damaging rays are still present.
Should I Use Sunscreen on My Newborn?
Not Younger Than 6 Months
Before that age, reduce their sun exposure during peak hours and opt for hats and clothing with a sun protection factor (SPF).
After six months, choose a brand that’s formulated specifically for babies to reduce the chance of irritating their sensitive skin. “Baby” sunscreen can also be used on toddlers and older children as well.
Should I Be Worried About Chemicals?
It’s normal to be worried about the chemicals you may be rubbing into your baby’s skin. While sunscreens are made up of different formulas that are widely considered safe for human use, one ingredient that should concern you is oxybenzone.
While some parents consider eschewing sunscreen altogether because they want to avoid chemicals, it’s important to remember that those chemicals serve a particular function — to protect your child from dangerous ultraviolet rays that can cause cancer down the road.
If you’re very concerned about chemical exposure, choose a mineral-based cream, which is not absorbed into the skin.
The Different Types of Sunscreen
There are many different types available. However, all fall into two main categories:
Chemical variants are also known as “traditional” sunscreens. When applied to your skin, they rub in completely. Chemicals in the spray or lotion absorb the ultraviolet rays that would otherwise damage and burn your skin. However, your skin itself absorbs these chemicals.
Mineral formulations are a newer kind of sun protection, and they’re becoming more popular. They’re known as “barrier” sunscreens as they actually put a physical barrier between the harmful rays and your skin, scattering and reflecting the rays. While effective and touted as a safer chemical-free option, the major drawback is that they are thicker and can leave a visible white residue on the skin.
Once you decide which type you prefer, consider which form you’d most prefer.
- Lotion or Cream: This traditional application will typically get you the deepest coverage as you need to rub it into the skin.
- Spray: Sprays are convenient because they release sunscreen evenly in a fine mist, but can be dangerous if inhaled. They may not be the best option for babies or young children as they cannot be instructed to hold their breath during application.
- Mousse: This is similar in application to a spray, but the product does not come out in an airborne mist and needs to be rubbed in. A blend between a lotion and a spray, this is a safe but convenient option for babies.
- Stick: These are a great option for the face. They don’t run or drip into little ones’ eyes, plus you can easily toss a stick in a beach bag and apply it on-the-go.
What Should I Look For?
When choosing sun protection for your baby or small child, keep the following in mind:
- SPF: Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, choose a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15 (source).
- Broad Spectrum: Choose something that specifies it’s “broad spectrum,” meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Formulated for Babies: The one you choose should be specifically formulated for babies or kids, to make sure it’s safe for your child’s sensitive skin.
- Chemical or Mineral: Based on your personal preference and your child’s skin care needs, decide whether you’d like a chemical or mineral-based option. If your child has sensitive skin or other allergies, a mineral sunscreen option may be preferred as it’s not absorbed into the skin.
- Application Method: Choose the application method that works best for your lifestyle and the age of your child. Be careful about choosing mist-based sprays for babies or young toddlers.
The Best Baby Sunscreens of 2018
Part of your job as a parent is to keep your child as safe as possible. Though things like scraped knees and fevers seem important at the moment, it’s the insidious, long-term dangers (like sun exposure) that have the greatest potential to harm your baby. Take a little time to buy a sunscreen you trust, and you can rest knowing that you’ve done your part. These are some of our favorite sunscreen brands in 2018.
1. Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen
If you’re looking for a seal of approval, here it is. This sunscreen has been given the Seal of Acceptance by the National Eczema Association, practically guaranteeing that it won’t further injure or irritate your little one’s skin.
Offering SPF 50 mineral-based barrier protection, it prevents both UVA and UVB rays from attacking fragile skin.
It’s water-resistant, so you won’t need to keep reapplying after a swim, plus most moms felt that the formulation wasn’t sticky or greasy.
- It’s specifically formulated for eczema-prone skin.
- Though it’s very effective, it doesn’t feel thick or oily on the skin.
- Broad spectrum protection for peace of mind.
- It’s a little pricey.
- It may stain fabrics.
2. ThinkBaby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+
ThinkBaby has made a sunscreen that’s safe for baby’s skin, contains no questionable chemicals, yet still provides highly effective and gentle sun protection.
This brand has earned a very low toxicity rating from the Environmental Working Group (rating: 1) but offers the maximum sun protection and water resistance levels available according to FDA regulations.
Reviewers noted that this product was not sticky or greasy like some other options, and was easy to wash off hands after application.
- This is an air-travel-friendly size (3 oz).
- There are no harmful chemicals.
- It’s very effective while still being a natural product.
- It washes off easily so you won’t have sticky or greasy hands afterward.
- It’s a thick formulation.
- You need to rub it in.
- It does not specify broad spectrum protection.
3. Nurture My Body Organic Baby Sunscreen
If you’re looking for a sunscreen that’s safe to put on your baby’s skin, this is it.
Given a toxicity rating of zero by the Environmental Working Group (the lowest rating possible), you can be assured that no dangerous ingredients will come into contact with your little one.
It’s also certified vegan, and packaged in a BPA-free bottle that won’t leach chemicals at high heat (i.e., when it’s sitting in your beach bag in the sun).
It’s also made with certified organic ingredients for extra peace of mind.
- This product is certified organic and safe.
- It contains only 8 ingredients, so you don’t pay for potentially toxic fillers and additives.
- It has a zero toxicity rating.
- This is more expensive.
- It’s very thick.
- You must shake it before application or coverage is patchy.
4. Babyganics Mineral-Based Sunscreen Spray
This product is essentially the best of both worlds — offering the convenience of a spray application with the effective coverage of a mineral sunscreen. The spray is not mist-like and therefore will not become airborne, causing your baby to inhale it.
It provides broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection and is made with a gentle, non-allergenic formula that is easy on the skin and will not sting your baby’s eyes if it gets in them.
Finally, you can be assured that there are no phthalates or parabens, giving you the confidence that you are choosing a product that’s safe for your little sunbeam.
- This has a convenient spray application that won’t make a mess.
- It’s water resistant so that you can use it at the pool or beach.
- It won’t sting your child’s eyes.
- It protects from both UVA and UVB rays.
- It needs to be rubbed in after spraying.
- It may stain white clothing.
- There are some filler chemicals in the formula.
5. CeraVe Baby SPF 45 Sunscreen
This is labeled as a “baby” sunscreen, but it’s so gentle on skin that you just might use it on yours, too.
The ingredients are naturally sourced and contain no irritating additives like parabens, fragrances, or sulfates.
CeraVe offers broad-spectrum coverage, and its fans feel it’s kind to the most delicate or easily-irritated skins — even babies with eczema.
- Gentle and soothing on irritated skin.
- Offers full broad spectrum protection.
- Water resistant for 80 minutes.
- Fragrance-free and neutral smelling.
- Some reviewers found it difficult to rub in.
- Packaging is small (3.5 oz), so you’ll need to repurchase often.
6. Blue Lizard Australian Baby Sunscreen
Sunscreen standards in Australia are the most stringent in the world, and that’s where the formula for this brand originates.
This mineral-based cream provides broad-spectrum protection without the iffy chemicals that make up traditional formulations.
It’s also creatively packaged in a bottle that turns a deeper color based on the number of UV rays present, which is a nice reminder to keep applying throughout the day.
The formula is identical to its “sensitive-skin” product, so you know it’ll be gentle on your child’s skin.
- Bottle is BPA-free.
- Offers broad-spectrum protection.
- Paraben and fragrance-free.
- Packaging indicates the presence of UV rays.
- Some users complained it was oily/shiny once applied.
- “Baby” formula is the same as “sensitive” formula.
7. Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Stick
Made with oats and developed in partnership with dermatologists, this sunscreen stick will keep your baby safe from the sun without causing irritation or breakouts.
Because it’s mineral-based, it creates an invisible barrier on your baby’s skin, preventing the harmful rays from entering the dermis and causing burns or damage.
100% naturally sourced, this option is a safe and gentle choice for your little one’s face.
- It was developed by dermatologists.
- It’s water/sweat resistant, so won’t go goopy after a few rounds in the pool or on a hot day.
- It offers barrier protection.
- This is easy to apply on the face.
- It may be difficult and time-consuming to apply to the rest of the body.
- It’s hard to rub in completely.
8. Badger SPF 30 Baby Sunscreen Cream
This sunscreen harnesses the power of natural minerals. With zinc oxide as the main ingredient, it offers broad spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays without any added chemicals.
Other natural ingredients include sunflower oil, beeswax, and vitamin E, formulated to provide an ultra-moisturizing and soothing effect. Because the ingredients are organic, it’s safe for your baby’s sensitive skin. It’s even been tested by pediatricians to be safe for babies and toddlers.
For those concerned about the ocean, the chemical-free formula isn’t the only impressive thing. The bottle is made from recyclable plastic and is also biodegradable, making it safe for coral reefs and other ecosystems.
This sunscreen should be thickly applied and begins working immediately. It’s both water and sweat resistant for up to 40 minutes. For eco-friendly moms who want sunscreen good for them and the environment, this is a good option.
- 100 percent natural formula is safe for the environment and your baby’s sensitive skin.
- Biodegradable plastic bottle won’t damage coral reefs or ecosystems.
- Water and sweat resistant for up to 40 minutes.
- Very thick formula takes some time to blend in.
- It doesn’t have any added fragrances, but the natural scent of the ingredients may be strong for some children.
9. Burt’s Bees Nourishing Mineral Sunscreen
A mineral-based sunscreen from the trusted people at Burt’s Bees, this will help keep your little one’s skin protected without making it all greasy.
Even better, it contains ingredients that nourish and hydrate the skin in addition to blocking the sun.
This product offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays and will stay on in the water since it’s water resistant. It’s also hypoallergenic and contains no potential irritants such as parabens, phthalates, or petrolatum.
- Broad-spectrum protection.
- It contains additional conditioners to keep skin soft and smooth.
- Reviewers loved the mild, pleasant fragrance.
- It’s quite thick, so it takes time to rub in.
- It may leave a white cast on the skin.
- It’s only water resistant for 40 minutes, then needs to be reapplied.
10. Alba Botanical Tropical Fruit Spray
This gorgeous spray is made from natural botanicals, so it’s bound to smell great. Many reviewers commented on the fragrance, indicating that it was pleasant but not overpowering.
The pump spray bottle allows for ease of application without the dangers of a mist, and it’s good for the environment, too.
Biodegradable and gluten-free, this also offers broad-spectrum protection along with an ample 80 minutes of water resistance.
- This product doesn’t feel greasy.
- It has a targeted spray application.
- Water resistant.
- It’s plant-based and contains lovely smelling botanicals.
- You need to rub it in.
- Some ingredients may cause allergic reactions.
- It has a fragrance, which may irritate skin.
My personal favorite is the Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen. Not only does it offer a fantastic 50 SPF and broad-spectrum coverage, but it’s free of common allergens and approved for babies with eczema and other skin conditions.
And while sunscreens can be pretty expensive (especially ones specifically formulated for children), this one is at a decent price point for the volume and quality.
Now that you know your baby will be protected, it’s time to get out and enjoy some fun in the sun. So pack your beach bag, grab the kids, and head out — but don’t forget the sunscreen!