Updated May 2019
- Protecting Little Skins
- Babies 0-6 Months
- Baby Sunscreen 101
- *new* Sunscreens for Big Kids/Grownups
- Best Lotions
- Best Sprays
- Sunscreen Controversies
With so many conflicting recommendations out there about SUN, babies, and sunscreen, it’s hard to know what to do. Thus: The Official Lucie’s List Guide to Summer Fun. Holllerrr!
Protecting Little Skins
Since unprotected sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, it’s something to take pretty seriously. Heck, I wish someone had given me the memo about this when I was a young ‘un; maybe I would have reconsidered daily tanning (burning?) contests with my sister. As someone who grew up in the South, LIVING at the pool every day… let’s just say we can do better with this generation of kids.
But it’s not just skin. In fact, “children under 10 are at a high risk for… eye damage from UV rays. And until about age 10, the lens of a child’s eye is clear, allowing greater solar penetration and thus greater UVR-induced ocular changes,” explains Adelaide A. Hebert, MD, professor and vice chair of dermatology, University of Texas Medical Center at Houston [SkinCancer.org].
Babies 0 – 6 Months Old
“I’ve read I can’t use sunscreen until 6 months, and I’ve got a family beach vacation coming up. What should I do?”
It’s true that the AAD (American Academy of Dermatology) recommends keeping babies < 6 months out of the sun and using minimal amounts of sunscreen, but don’t cancel your beach vacation [oh no]… just bring along an umbrella or a sun tent and use hats, protective clothing, and small amounts of sunscreen when you must.
The Best Beach Tents
At 3 weeks old, [then] baby Alice spent many an afternoon chilling in our beach tent and wiggling around in the sand. If you’re on a budget, I recommend the Coleman Road Trip Beach Shade (reg. $54, below). If you can spend a little more ($69), the Pacific Breeze EasyUp Beach Tent is the most highly rated. It too is UPF 50 and is super easy to get up and take down.
New for 2019, the Veer Gear Basecamp! You’ve heard of the Veer Wagon… Well, the folks that brought you that sweet piece of equipment are now offering an awesome tent! Quick note about tents: there may be rules and regulations in your area (Southern California comes to mind…) regarding their max size and dimensions. Please check with your local authorities before making this commitment :-).
Just make sure the material is UV rated; otherwise, your baby can still get burned through the tent material. FYI, they can also get burned from sun reflecting off the sand and water.
Baby Sunscreen 101
Sunscreen vs. Sunblock
Technically speaking, sunscreens use chemicals to absorb UV rays so they don’t penetrate the skin, while sunblocks use minerals, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to physically deflect rays from the skin. However, these terms are often used interchangeably, so it’s a little confusing. Case in point: all of the recommended kids’ “sunscreens” below are technically sunblocks. But they’re called sunscreens. So, yeah, just… FYI.
Sunblocks are generally recommended for babies and children (over sunscreens) by pediatricians, advocacy groups, environmentalists, etc. for various reasons [read more below in “sunscreen controversies“], mainly because they don’t contain chemicals like oxybenzone and avobenzone, which may be toxic at high enough doses.
The general sentiment is something like this: “A natural mineral (aka physical) sunblock is, by far, the safest option to get your SPF. The minerals zinc and titanium sit on the skin’s surface and reflect sun rays out away from the body like tin foil. Chemical ingredients [found in sunscreens] are absorbed into the skin to deal with sun rays in a chemically reactive process in the skin cell itself, with potentially unintended and harmful consequences to the skin and body,” says Kim Walls, M.S.
The downside to sunblocks is that they are generally more expensive because of the cost of the minerals used to make them. Just note that a little goes a long way, and a single tube or two could last you the whole season.
Screens and blocks for kids come in lotions, sprays, and sticks.
Everyone has their preferences, but I prefer lotions for infants — and sprays for kids-who-can’t-sit-still. The best way to do it is to apply sunscreen before you dress your child so you can get all the nooks and crannies (for girls, under swimsuit straps, etc.).
Did you know?…
“The Food and Drug Administration does not set any criteria or additional requirements for sunscreen and body care products marketed to children. EWG has not identified any systematic differences between the types of products marketed to children and the general population.” – Check out this article for more details.
The Best Sunblocks for Babies, Toddlers, and Children
How did we decide? We weighed input from SkinCancer.org, EWG (Environmental Working Group), Consumer Reports, and loads of user reviews. Read below for the recommendations for “sunscreen controversies.”
For whatever reason, some of these products are a bit hard to find (e.g., most are definitely not found at your local Walgreens or Piggly Wiggly. Sorry).
Thinkbaby Sunscreen SPF 50+ ~ $8 (3 oz)
The best kid’s sunscreen ever and the highest-rated baby sunscreen on multiple sites, with nearly 2,000 reviews on Amazon averaging 4.4/5 stars, Thinkbaby offers broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection with SPF 50+, and it’s “very water resistant” (up to 80 minutes in the water). Thinkbaby is paraben and PABA-free, and it received an “excellent” for UVA and SPF protection from EWG’s “Skin Deep” scores.
Best of all, I should note that many sunscreens (especially the mineral sunblocks) look great on paper, but may have a terrible consistency (sticky, goopy, etc.) when you apply it. Thinkbaby has a nice, creamy consistency and is super easy to apply, which is another reason it’s our #1 (for 6 years running, in fact!).
* Active ingredient: Zinc Oxide 20% [Non-nano]
Blue Lizard Sensitive (or Baby) Sunscreen SPF 30+ ~ $14 (5 oz)
Fair-skinned people living under a giant hole in the ozone know how to avoid a sunburn (slip, slap, slop!). Blue Lizard has been our go-to sunscreen since Lucie was born. This sensitive skin formulation, with no chemical absorbers, offers broad photostable UVA/UVB protection and protects skin for up to 4 hours of activity. Paraben and PABA-free.
* If water resistance is of the utmost importance, check out the Sport version, which is water resistant up to 240 minutes. To be honest, nobody can tell us what the difference is in the “Baby” vs. “Sensitive” versions of this product, so I get whichever one is cheaper.
* Active ingredients: 10% Zinc Oxide and 5% Titanium Dioxide [Non-nano]
Badger Baby Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 ~ $13 (2.9 oz)
The highest-rated of the all-natural and organic, earthy mama sunscreens is Badger Baby. If you can get over the scent and the pasty texture, this is a very high-performing sunscreen whose ingredients are as crunchy as they come. I’ll admit, the base of sunflower oil, beeswax, and vitamin E is rather soothing. Yes, it’s water resistant for at least 40 minutes.
* The thing about Badger is that you really need to shake it well because it tends to separate if it’s sitting on the shelf too long. Like I said, not my favorite consistency, but they have a great reputation.
* Active Ingredient: Uncoated Zinc Oxide 18.75% [Non-nano]
In my opinion, sprays are sometimes easier to apply because I can hold the victim down with one hand (or hold her hair back) and spray her with the other, mwaaa. I do it outside, so it doesn’t get everywhere. Mommy’s got spray and she isn’t afraid to use it!
Mind you, these sprays still have to be rubbed in, unlike some of the toxic adult versions. Kidding (sort of). Just be sure they’re not inhaling it.
AllGood Kids Sunscreen Spray ~ $21 (6 oz)
We removed a couple of picks from last year (BabyGanics and others) because they contain octinoxate, whose toxicity in humans (especially babies) has been called into question. Hence, our choice this year is a zinc-oxide based formula from AllGood. This formulation rubs in completely and isn’t pasty, which is a common complaint with sprays. It’s also coral reef friendly for you swimmers and snorkelers.
* Active Ingredient: Zinc Oxide 14%
Tips for Applying Sunscreen to Children:
Again, the big benefit of using a spray is that I can hold my kid’s hair (or swimsuit straps) while I spray with one hand. With lotions and creams, you most definitely need to use two hands. It’s this convenience that I like. There are some reviews saying it doesn’t work well, but that has never been my experience.
FYI — There are lots of good sunblocks out there, but many of them are only available through specialty websites. Do you have one you love? Please leave a comment below, thanks!
Remember: Sunscreen is just part of the equation that also includes protective clothing, hat and eye protection, and staying out of the sun when the rays are strongest, between 10 am and 3 pm, generally.
Top Picks for Big Kids/Adults
Heather, our resident mother-of-a-teen, has a son whose morning regimen is more elaborate than many of ours. Luckily, young Kyle learned the value of sun protection at an early age (thanks, vanishing ozone layer). He’s a huge fan of tinted sunscreens for his face. And since acne is a potential issue for this group, we’re happy to point out that these are non-comedogenic.
With the same great texture and viscosity as their sunscreen mentioned above, the “face” sunscreen provides a very light tint, perfect for faces that don’t want to look sunscreen’d. Top rated by EWG skin deep database with a “1” rating since 2010 & the first sunscreen to pass Whole Foods Premium Care requirements. Free of biologically harmful chemicals: no avobenzone, oxybenzone, paraben, phthalate, paba and dioxane free. SPF 30, water resistant (80 minutes), broad-spectrum coverage with natural tint.
Skin Deep’s broad spectrum sunscreen provides lasting SPF 50+ protection against UVA & UVB rays. It also delivers ultra-sheer, weightless 13.75% Micronized Zinc Oxide. Antioxidant enriched with green tea polyphenols, resveratrol, vitamin A,C,E, emblica and CoQ10, to provide exceptional broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection and quench free radicals. Great for all skin types, especially sensitive and acne prone skin :-)… Skin Deep is offering Lucie’s List readers 15% off their sunscreen line for Summer 2019! Enter promo code “LL15” at checkout.
This one is on the pricey side, so we wouldn’t recommend it for little kids. Obagi Medical’s Sun Shield is a tinted sunscreen that offers protection against UVB, UVA and IR radiation in a sheer and fragrance-free formula. Available in cool and warm tints for different skin tones.
This facial sunscreen features buffers that protect skin from heat-derived oxidative stress. Recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation for daily use, and formulated with chemical and mineral sunscreen ingredients. Non-comedogneic, hypoallergenic, and dermatologist-tested. Our friends at Skin Deep offer this exclusive product as well (it’s easily counterfeited online, sadly); our readers get 15% off of this product for Summer 2019. Enter promo code “LL15” at checkout.
The three main controversies of sunscreens (particularly for children) look something like this:
The Nanoparticle Debate
Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of talk about the safety of “nanoparticles.” You see, in the past, mineral sunblocks consisted of large enough particles so that they always remained white and chalky on the skin. More recently, many products have been formulated to reduce the size of the mineral particles, called nanoparticles, making them less visible on the skin. No more ghostly white-face — yay, right?
However, there are concerns that nanoparticles may possibly pass THROUGH the skin (especially in pre-term babies and very young babies) and may be photo-reactive, forming free radicals that can cause cell damage. Those espousing this position recommend using only mineral sunblocks that contain “micronized” particles rather than nanoparticles. [Technically, a nanoparticle is any particle less than 100 nanometers in diameter, but a particle must actually be less than 50 nanometers to enter skin cells, less than 70 nanometers to enter the lungs, etc.] Got it? Okay good.
*Update for 2019: I have been assured by a couple of readers (who are toxicologists or married to someone who is) that nano-particles are not harmful to humans, even babies. Please read below in the comments. See also here. *All the products I recommend [above] are NON-nano (in case you were wondering what the heck that means). No she-NANO-gans here, mama. 😉 I’m hilarious, I know.
Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, and others
The good news is that oxybenzone is one of the few FDA-approved ingredients that provide effective broad-spectrum protection (see #3) from UV radiation. The bad news is that oxybenzone (and other similar chemicals) are endocrine disruptors, which could affect the nervous system, have been linked to cancer in some laboratory studies, and creates free-radicals when exposed to the sun.
In 2016, Consumer Reports told us, “some chemical UV filters, such as octinoxate and oxybenzone, have been found to cause hormonal changes in animals; however, short-term research in people did not show any adverse effect.”
However, in May 2019, JAMA studied whether 4 of these ingredients (those usually found in sunscreens: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule) exceeded limits set by the FDA when used at “maximum dose” (aka applied 4 times a day over most of the body).
The result? Yes they do. In other words, these chemicals DID end up in the bloodstream. And it only took one day for it to happen. The results? “These ingredients need to be studied more.” (no sh!t?).
*All of the products we recommend [above] are free of oxybenzone and avobenzone. Just in case.
If this is not a concern for you personally, save some dollars and go with Coppertone Water Babies, Pure Sun Defense (with Disney label), and even Equate by WalMart (per Consumer Reports test results, 2016).For adults, we recommend Equate and No-Ad Sport
- Many sunscreens only protect from UVB rays, giving people a false sense of security about spending time in the sun. UVA radiation doesn’t cause sunburns per se, but can increase the rate of melanoma and AGING of the skin (ack!), so many people using sunscreens may be exposed to high UVA levels without realizing it. Look for sunscreens with broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) protection (for adults too)! Natural sunscreen ingredients, including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide protect from both UVA and UVB overexposure. Do I have your back or what? Fuggetaboutit.
Welp. Hope you’ve learned a little about the nuances of sunscreens. Have a question or comment? Leave one below.
Thanks and happy summer!
Next in the Summer Series
- Part 2: Best Swim Diapers
- Part 3: Sun Protective Clothing for Kids
- Part 4: Best Insect Repellents for Kids
- Part 5: Best Life Jackets for Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
- Part 6: Summer Shoes for Kids