How To Choose The Best Sunscreen For Your Kids

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Image: iStock / Nadezhda1906

Summer is finally upon us! Didn’t it feel like it would never come? We swear, winter dragged on forever this year. But now that the sun is out, that means buns are going to be out, and we’ve got some precious buns (and guns and noses and shoulders) to mind. You’ve probably stocked up on all the stuff you’ll need for summer fun, like pool floats and sidewalk chalk and bubbles. But while you’re making plans for play dates and trips to the park and zoo, don’t forget the sunscreen! It’s so important to keep our kiddos protected when they’re out in the sun. And this summer, we plan on spending a LOT of time outside. Picking the best sunscreen for your kids can be a bit overwhelming. So we’ve got some tips to make sure the stuff they’re slathered in is going to keep them safe this summer.

There are a lot of things to consider when choosing the best sunscreen for your kids. Most parents check for SPF first.

A lot of us fall into the trap of thinking a higher SPF means better protection. But that’s not necessarily the case. Your sunscreen should have an SPF rating between 15 and 30, but for kiddos, 30 is your best bet. At that rating, it will provide protection against 97-98% of UVB rays. Anything over 30 might SOUND more protective, but experts agree that the higher rating doesn’t equate to more protection.

Also, when looking for the best sunscreen for your kids, make sure you choose one that lists UVA and UVB broad-spectrum protection. But you have to do more than trust what the box says. A lot of sunscreens that claim to protect against both don’t offer much in the way of UVA protection. You want to look for sunscreens that contain avobenzone, titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide to get good UVA protection.

If you’re concerned about chemical ingredients in your child’s sunscreen, look for options that rely on natural protection.

A lot of sunscreens contain ingredients that give a lot of parents pause. Research regarding the use of oxybenzone in sunscreens is concerning, and parents are looking for safer (yet still effective) options. If you want excellent protection from the sun, but are wary of suncreens that contain chemicals like retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) and oxybenzone, opt for a mineral sunscreen. These formulas rely on natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. These ingredients act as a physical barrier to the sun, and they’re less likely to be absorbed into the skin as chemical ingredients.

In addition to choosing a mineral-based sunscreen, check the ingredients for other additives. If your kiddo has sensitive skin make sure you’re looking for one that’s PABA and paraben-free. That means it doesn’t contain para-aminobenzoic acid or other parabens, which can be irritating to the skin.

Picking the best sunscreen is about more than ingredients, though.

You can find the best sunscreen around, but if you’re not using it correctly, it doesn’t matter. Make sure the sunscreen you choose is water-resistant but up to 80 minutes. Even if your child isn’t going to be swimming, they’ll probably be sweating, and you want their sun protection to hold up. Sunscreen should be applied at least 20 minutes before sun exposure, and ideally reapplied every 1-1.5 hours. It’s a pain, we know, but one application isn’t going to protect them for several hours out in the sun.

When it comes to choosing the best sunscreen, there are a few different options in terms of application. You can go with a thick lotion formula (many mineral-based sunscreens are in this form), which when applied correctly offers excellent protection. But they can be difficult to rub in on squirmy kiddos. There are sunscreen sticks, which can make application a bit easier. The spray formulas are popular among parents because of how easy they are to use. But the thin, invisible spray can make it hard to know how well your kid is covered. And there is the concern that the mist can be inhaled when you’re applying it to your child. If you go with a spray, it’s best to use it on older kiddos who can avoid breathing in while it’s being applied.

Finding the best sunscreen for your kids takes some research, that’s for sure. But when it comes to protecting our kiddos from sunburns and sun damage, it’s totally worth it.