Best Sunscreen for Babies
The TruKid Sunny Days Sport (available in 3.5 oz only) is top-notch sunscreen that we frequently use with our children. Although thick, it rubs in quickly, leaving a matte, unscented finish without any greasy residue. The formula is free of chemicals, parabens, and phthalates. Plus, it uses protective, moisturizing, organic, plant-derived ingredients, like aloe juice, sunflower oil, jojoba oil, cucumber extract, green tea oil, and pomegranate juice. Nonetheless, we feel comfortable about using this product with the entire family.
Although TruKid advertises an 80-minute water-resistance, we encourage vigilant and generous reapplication to avoid sunburn, especially when swimming or playing during peak sun hours (10 am to 4 pm). This product may also cause dry skin for some children; therefore, we recommend covering the skin with quality natural moisturizer after bathing. We highly recommend this non-toxic product as an all-around great sunscreen for babies and kids.
Although expensive, the California Baby Super Sensitive is worth the splurge if your little one has sensitive skin or eczema. It is a fragrance-free with a broad-spectrum formulation, plus water-resistance of 80-minutes. It uses protective and moisturizing ingredients, including extracts of calendula, pansy, rosemary, and safflower, and coconut oil. For those with allergies, it is free of gluten, oat, soy, and dairy, and nuts (with the exclusion of coconut), which ticks most boxes. Also, titanium dioxide is the only active ingredient, so if there is any reason your kiddo needs to avoid zinc oxide, this product may be a match. While more costly, this lotion is concentrated and lasts longer than you think. For ease of application, follow the founder's recommendations using the "dot technique". This process involves placing a dime-sized amount on skin or fingers, then dotting it over sun-exposed skin before blending in.
We believe the lotion is quite thick, so be warned, a little goes a long way. We also found it challenging to remove from leather and suggest applying it outside of the house and car. Lastly, pay attention to the expiration date. It is too expensive to throw away. Despite these factors, if you have a little one who has allergies, sensitive skin, or eczema, you may find this product to be a good fit.
Besides its trademark bottle that turns color when exposed to UV, there is a lot to love about Blue Lizard Baby. It contains a mixture of active mineral ingredients (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), which is excellent for full spectrum UVA/UVB coverage. It is also fragrance-free and contains no gluten, making it a good choice for those who have sensitivities. We love that it rubs in easily (especially for a mineral-based product), and its oil-water emulsion consistency is not greasy or sticky. This brand is also available in a Blue Lizard Sensitive formulation with the same active ingredients, SPF rating, and performance.
The formulation can separate, so it is essential to shake the container well before use. Be aware that Blue Lizard is water-resistant for only 40-minutes, so you must be vigilant about reapplying after towel drying when swimming, sweating, or any other water activity. Otherwise, we recommend reapplication every 2 hours.
The Neutrogena Pure and Free Baby is easy to find online and in stores, making this mineral-based formula with an 80-minute water resistance easily obtainable. We think this non-greasy formula is easy to rub in and comfortable for long days in the sun.
While its inactive ingredients are less natural, we feel it is a good option for a mainstream, easy to purchase sunscreen, plus with a reasonable price tag. While testing, we think this product does not thoroughly rub into the skin, which is a hallmark of a mineral-base. Yet, if you don't mind the white, we think you'll be happy with the results.
Need a solution for keeping little lips protected from the sun? Check out Burt's Bees All-Weather SPF 15 Moisturizing Lip Balm, an all-natural, zinc solution. It is water-resistant for up to 40-minutes, so remember to periodically reapply when playing in the water. With lots of healthy oils (olive, cocoa, jojoba, shea, meadowfoam, and soybean), it is very moisturizing and helps prevent chapping and cracking lips.
Its zinc base has a creamy white appearance, which can be annoying, but this typically isn't a problem for kids. To some, it may also have a tacky feel. Nonetheless, we love the natural ingredients and moisturizing quality of this balm with adequate UV protection.
The Raw Elements Baby + Kids SPF 30 is an excellent eco-friendly option as it comes in a tin with a secure lid (cheers to plastic-free packaging) and uses safe and healthy ingredients for your little one's skin. The formula is reef-friendly, too. The only active ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide, which stays on top of the skin to block UVA and UVB rays. The rest of the ingredients (95% organic, the other 5% certified natural) include antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and extracts that moisturize the skin and sourced sustainably. We appreciate that the formula does not contain fragrances, preservatives, chemicals, or dyes, making it a good option for sensitive skin. This product is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. But, keep in mind, it is best to reapply after swimming, sweating, and towel drying to avoid a sunburn.
In our opinion, this product is slightly greasy and leaves a subtle white hue on the skin. However, it did perform well, and it took some effort to wash off. So, if you appreciate the eco-friendly elements and seek a chemical-free and water-resistant product, we think you may be happy with this product.
Does your little one enjoy swimming? The Thinksport Kids is excellent for water play with an 80-minute water resistance window. With a thick consistency, it does take some elbow grease to rub in, but we think its lovely scent and effectiveness are worth the effort. It is also available in a Thinkbaby SPF 50+ version with the same base formulation, including skin-centric ingredients like aloe juice and castor, sunflower, jojoba, olive, raspberry seed, and cranberry seed oils, as well as Vitamins C and E.
For those with sensitive skin, we recommend spot testing before widespread use to avoid a potential skin reaction. Also, to ensure a thorough application of active ingredients, shake contents before slathering and reapply as directed.
The Baby Bum SPF 50 is 100% mineral-based broad-spectrum sunscreen that is fragrance-free, non-greasy, and easy to rub in - a factor we appreciate with wiggly, impatient children. Also, this vegan product is free of gluten and parabens, plus it is cruelty-free.
With an adequate application, we believe this product provides sun protection. It is also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. We noticed that scrubbing our skin underwater caused the product to lift and remove, so we suggest reapplying after swimming, excessive sweating, towel drying, or any activity where friction against the skin may remove the sunscreen. We believe this product may be a great addition to your sun protection defense line and think it is worth trying, especially if you need a sunscreen that is easy to rub in.
The Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Lotion has similar ingredients to Neutrogena Pure and Free Baby and sports a water resistance of 80-minutes. The only significant difference is oat extract (colloidal oatmeal) with skin-nourishing properties. We include it here because it is a good drugstore option, and cost will be the deciding factor. Any white residue will dissipate with time and extra rubbing. Those with a gluten allergy or Celiac may want to steer clear, as some are sensitive to oat containing skin products.
Products that Didn't Make the Cut
There are a lot of products for kids and babies, and we tested a bunch. The mineral-based products below didn't make our list because they are either too greasy, too sticky, not breathable, or not effective enough for our liking.
- Alba Botanica
- All Good
- Babytime! by Episencial
- Bare Republic
- Goddess Garden Organics
- Honest Company
- Kiss My Face
- Nurture My Body
We recognize that these are popular products. All of them receive decent scores in the Environmental Working Group's analysis of ingredients. However, based on our hands-on testing, they struggled in side-by-side comparisons with our chosen favorites.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our BabyGearLab team includes outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy time in the sun but want to avoid all the negative things associated with it. The team is led by BabyGearLab founder, Dr. Juliet Spurrier, a board-certified pediatrician, Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and mother of two. With motherhood and her pediatrician background, Dr. Spurrier uses her knowledge and experience to guide her product choices, focusing on safety and efficacy. Also contributing to our review is Senior Review Editor, Wendy Schmitz. Wendy has a degree in biology and a mother of two. She uses her education to help research ingredients and safety from a scientific perspective, and from a mother's point of view, how her children feel about the different lotions. With a little one who has Celiac disease, Wendy has a keen eye for products with fewer ingredients and those suitable for sensitive skin or allergies that are also easy to use and budget-friendly.
How to Choose the Right Product for Your Kids
Although products are always changing, one thing will not: complete sun protection, especially during the summertime when outdoor activity abounds. Before we delve into screening basics, let's dig deep into the sun and practical protective tips.
A Trifecta of Sun Facts
To understand why protecting your skin is so important, you need to know more about the sun and UVA and UVB rays.
- The Difference Between UVA and UVB Rays — Ultraviolet radiation travels from the sun, enters the atmosphere, and reaches us on Earth through UVA rays (long-wave, 320 to 400 nm) and UVB rays (shortwave, 290 to 320 nm). There are also even shorter UVC rays. However, the ozone layer absorbs these. Both UVA and UVB radiation contribute to skin aging and cancers (melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma), eye damage (cataracts, macular degeneration), and eye cancer (melanoma). UVA and UVB radiation both cause tanning, but only the UVB causes sunburn. So, just because you aren't sunburned, it doesn't mean that your skin has had a good day if left unprotected. The other fascinating difference about UVA is that it penetrates deeper through the skin than UVB. UVA affects keratinocytes, the origin of basal and squamous cell carcinomas. UVB peaks from 10 am to 4 pm, whereas UVA is present during all daylight hours and penetrates through glass, unlike UVB. These factors mean that sun protection is vital during all daylight hours, even when driving.
- Cloudy Skies Doesn't Give You a Hall Pass on Sunscreen — Fact. UVA radiation penetrates through clouds and can even reach you when you hide in the shade. This fact is a bummer because, let's face it, who doesn't love a hall pass? So, even though you may not feel the effects of the sun on a cloudy day, UVA rays can still penetrate through to the dermal layer of your skin, cumulatively increasing your risk of developing skin cancer over time. Day after day, and year after year, this chronic exposure to UVA adds up and matters. The take-away? Use sunscreen. Every day. Rain or shine. Clouds or snow. Warm or cold.
- Ultraviolet Radiation Affects the Eyes — Although we've already said it, we want to highlight it again because it is that important. UV radiation affects more than our skin. It can damage your eyes, presenting later in life as macular degeneration, cataracts, and occasionally retinal melanoma. Thus, wearing UV protective sunglasses is essential to protect vision and long-term eye health.
A Triple Defense is the Best Offense
Below is the triple defense of lifestyle strategies to protect yourself and your family from the sun's harmful effects. Consider them a year-round mantra for your family whenever you enjoy the great outdoors.
- Avoid Peak Exposure — Plan outdoor activities around peak sun exposure (10 am to 4 pm is the high-risk window).
- Slather Up — Apply lotion with an SPF of 30 or higher to any exposed skin 15 to 30 minutes BEFORE outdoor activity and/or swimming, in all kinds of weather, even if you utilize shade. Be sure to use plenty and frequently reapply, especially after water exposure and/or towel drying. If you stay in the shade, you must lotion up. For example, if you sit under a well-shaded umbrella at the beach, you are still exposed to reflective UV rays from sand and water and will be leaving yourself susceptible to sunburn. Always store bottles away from heat and direct sunlight when possible to maintain a formula's effectiveness.
- Cover-Up — To maximize skin protection, cover up with a hat, sunglasses, and SPF clothing like a loose and light long sleeve shirt with a hood and pants. For example, a dry white t-shirt has an SPF rating of 7. However, when wet, the SPF decreases to 3. For swimming babies and toddlers, full-coverage swimsuits and shirts can provide peace of mind. Also, find shade or bring it with you in the form of a pop-up tent or umbrella.
Mineral-based and chemical-based formulas function differently and in user experience. The active mineral ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, remain on top of the skin, acting as a physical blocker and scattering the sun's rays. They are thick, and despite best efforts to rub in, a whitish hue usually remains as they do not absorb into the skin. Once applied, they can be greasy or chalky, but they work great and are safe for children. However, the creation of "invisible zinc," small nanoparticles, are smaller, lighter, and blend in easier, producing a less white final appearance. Some mineral formulations can separate somewhat in the container requiring a good shaking before application to ensure that the active ingredient is part of the application. When significant separation occurs and shaking doesn't resolve the issue quickly, it is time to buy a new container.The Skinny on Non-Nano Zinc Oxide
Many zinc oxide containing products now list "non-nano zinc oxide" as a point of pride. This claim means that the Zinc active ingredient is greater than 100 microns in size. The assumption is that a particle of this size can't penetrate the skin's barrier and won't absorb into the bloodstream. Does this matter, or is it marketing hype? While the answer is steeped in controversy, the reality is that titanium dioxide, another active ingredient in many mineral-based options IS a nanoparticle AND it has been shown that it is not small enough to penetrate the skin's barrier. Furthermore, BOTH zinc oxide AND titanium dioxide are inert substances, meaning they are chemically inactive. They are also photostable, meaning that the chemical composition doesn't change with exposure to UV radiation. The bottom line is zinc oxide, whether nano or non-nano (as well as titanium dioxide), are safe for use with children.
Products that are chemically-based use a blend of active ingredients, such as avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, and others, which protect by absorbing into the skin. These products are thinner and easier to apply. Nonetheless, this type can be irritating to a baby or child's skin resulting in uncomfortable burning, redness, rash, or dryness. Even adults with sensitive skin can develop allergic-type reactions and rashes to active chemical ingredients (oxybenzone being the main culprit) and have better luck with mineral-based ones. That said, some adults have success with avobenzone as an effective and less irritating ingredient that offers good UVA protection. Also, these chemicals can be absorbed into the skin and are known endocrine disrupters that can cause potential health problems.
Q & A: Sun Combating Lotions 101
We've already shared our favorite options, but the following information helps answer common questions about general use, label reading, and selection. So, the next time you face a variety of lotions, instead of bursting out in a cold sweat, you can feel confident about your choice.
- What Age is it Safe to Use Sunscreen on a Baby? — The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping babies under 6-months-of-age entirely out of the sun due to skin thinness and sensitivity. However, if this is unavoidable, we suggest covering their skin as much as possible and use mineral-based protection on exposed areas, even if they are wearing a hat. After 6-months, you should routinely use a mineral-based product when your baby is outside.
- What is the Best Type: Lotion, Stick, or Spray? — Hands down, LOTION! Lotion allows you to control the quantity easily. You should always use a thick layer. We don't recommend stick-based protection as it can be challenging to get full coverage or a thick enough layer, which can result in unintentional sunburns. However, sticks can be useful for spot application for hard to reach areas; make sure to apply a thick, complete layer. Our real pet peeve is with aerosolized spray bottles. When deployed, it can transmit a finely aerosolized mist downwind to innocent bystanders. It reminds us of secondhand smoke, as it is so noxious, and we prefer not to use aerosolized products. But, we understand why people use sprays. They are easy to use, hands don't get greasy, and gets the job done, right? To our knowledge, a complete analysis of the inhalation of aerosolized particulates is not available. Still, common sense indicates that it is not a good thing, particularly for anyone that suffers from allergies and asthma, as well as young or impaired respiratory systems. Finally, sprays are lacking as most folks don't rub them onto the skin once applied, making them less useful as it often results in inadequate coverage and/or product retention. Also, many sprays are clear, so it is challenging to determine coverage adequacy. The possible outcome? Sunburn city.
In our research, we discovered incidents of the use of aerosolized sunscreen resulting in fire burns. Skin covered in wet sunscreen has started on fire after exposure to a fire source. Unfortunately, bottles do not adequately label this potential issue. Known incidents occurred near a heated BBQ, citronella candle, and cigarette lighter. While the reports are limited and potentially rare, it is our opinion that this is yet another reason to avoid aerosolized products, especially for children.
- Do I Need to Pay Attention to Water-Resistance? — ABSOLUTELY! If a formulation label has water resistance guidelines, follow them! Most have 80-minute water resistance, but every once in a while, one with 40-minute resistance pops up, and paying attention can make a significant difference on whether or not your little one gets burned. No one wants to reapply lotion every 40-minutes! The products we chose for this round-up have an 80-minute water resistance (except for Blue Lizard, which we recommend for dry activities). Nonetheless, after sweating OR swimming for the resistance window duration, reapplication is necessary. Reapplication is also essential after towel-drying, which can inadvertently remove the lotion. If neither swimming nor sweating, reapplication should occur every 2 hours. If a water resistance limit is not on the label, as with Blue Lizard Baby, then an alternative water-resistant option would be better for water-based activities. Pay special attention to areas where rubbing can occur, like the upper arms when wearing a lifevest.
- When Do I Need to Replace My Sunscreen? — When the product is past its expiration date, has become clumpy or separated, or smells strange, it is time to toss it. We know that throwing out a non-empty bottle is painful, but this isn't a good time to cut corners. You can find the expiration date on the corrugated edge or the bottom of a tube/bottle.
- Which Level of SPF to Use? — SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, which is a measure of UVB protection. The SPF sweet spot is between 30 to 50. To illustrate this, consider the following, an SPF of 15 blocks 93% of UVB. An SFP of 30 blocks 97% of UVB. And, an SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB's rays. Simply put, past an SPF of 30, there are diminishing returns in protection.
- What About UVA Protection? — SPF correlates to UVB blockage, so for adequate UVA protection, you need to use a broad-spectrum formula, meaning one that provides sufficient coverage from UVA and UVB Rays. This need is where label reading is vital. For optimal UVA protection, it is essential to have at least one and preferably a combination of the following active ingredients, zinc oxide (mineral), titanium dioxide (mineral), avobenzone (chemical), ecamsule (chemical), or oxybenzone (chemical). For mineral-based formulations (those we prefer and recommended here), having zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or a combination will work for full-spectrum protection.
- Should I Use a Combination Sunscreen/Insect Repellant? — Our advice? Just Say No. Why? They aren't as effective and typically use chemical-based active ingredients. Also, sunscreen requires more frequent applications than repellants. This big disconnect feels unnecessary and exposes little ones to higher concentrations of chemicals than are necessary.
- Does the Type of Active Ingredients Matter? — In our opinion, the ingredients matter, especially when choosing for children. Sunscreen's active ingredients include mineral, chemical, or a combination. Paying attention to details is vital to your overall pick, particularly for sensitive skin and developing babies.
Regarding little ones, we believe a mineral-based sunscreen in a lotion formulation is the best choice. Although it can take some elbow-grease to apply and tends to leave a white residue, we do like that it remains on the skin instead of absorbed into the skin. If mineral-based products are cost-prohibitive, chemical-based formulation, like Coppertone or Banana Boat, is far better than skipping sunscreen protection. We really can't stress this enough. Also, since there are typically several active and inactive ingredients in any product, we recommend doing a spot test with any new product to determine skin sensitivity. As always, remember to practice triple defense to maximize sun protection. Such as covering up with a hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts, and pants, and protective lip balm.
Sunscreen is a necessity for delicate baby skin, and it is the best way to help avoid the sun's determinantal effects. You may not have given it too much thought in the past, but now that you have a little one to protect, it should be foremost in your mind before hitting adventures in the great outdoors. We think this roundup of potential contenders is a great place to find the right product for your goals and budget. With chemical-free options and options for sensitive skin, there is something for everyone on this list.
— Juliet Spurrier, MD, Wendy Schmitz & Molly Bradac