For many, the fondest memory of their childhood is playing outdoors. Being pushed on a swing, jumping on a trampoline, or engaging in hands-on water play can be fun activities for your little one.
But like any parent, you’re probably concerned about shielding your child from the sun’s rays. Given that a baby’s skin is thinner and more fragile, you are quite right to have these concerns.
As you’ll learn from our article, the best way to protect your child is by putting several measures in place. One of these precautions involves applying sunscreen on your toddler, and it’s the focus of this piece. Let’s get into it.
The importance of sunscreen
To understand the importance of sunscreen, we need to start with the basics.
The sun emits ultraviolet radiation, which comprises UVA, UVB, and UVC light. UVC rays don’t pass through the earth’s ozone layer, so they don’t cause us any harm.
However, UVA and UVB rays do penetrate the ozone layer, posing significant risks. To be more specific, UVB rays are what cause sunburn and damage to skin cells. UVA rays are also harmful in that they lead to the skin aging prematurely.
Sunscreens were invented to mitigate the health risks posed by the sun’s rays. Those made from inorganic compounds work by scattering the light away, while organic-based sunscreens work by absorbing the rays so that your skin doesn’t.
By stopping the ultraviolet light from reaching your skin, sunscreen prevents a number of skin conditions, including:
- Inflammation and redness
- Skin cancer
- Early onset of wrinkles
Additional sun safety tips
To keep your daughter or son completely protected from the sun’s harsh rays, use these hacks as well:
- Limit their sun exposure, especially between 10 am and 2 pm, when the sun gets really hot.
- Cover up your child with a sun hat and UV protective outfits.
- Invest in a pair of kid’s sunglasses.
How to apply sunscreen
Here’s what you should keep in mind when applying sunscreen on your child.
1. Lay it on thick
Usually, an adult needs about an ounce of sunscreen (or enough to fill a shot glass) to cover all the exposed areas of their body. Most kids need about half of that.
Since you probably won’t have a way of measuring this amount, know that half an ounce ought to fill the palm of your kid’s hand. It’s important that you apply a really thick layer to offer your child maximum protection.
2. Apply a small amount of sunscreen on their face
Rather than squeezing out a large blob of the product on your hands, apply it directly on your toddler’s face and body so it can be absorbed more quickly.
Be sure to cover all exposed areas of their skin, including the neck, ears, hands, and the top of their feet and legs.
3. Remember to reapply
Remember to reapply the sunscreen every two hours and even more often if your kid is sweating, swimming, or playing in water.
Tips on choosing sunscreen for children
Here’s a guide to help you pick the best sunscreen for kids.
Pick the right type for your child’s skin
Sunscreen comes in a variety of forms, including gels, lotions, sticks, and sprays. Lotions are the most suitable option for kids with dry skin. Sticks are the easiest to apply, especially on the area around the eyes, whereas gels work well for areas with hair (such as the scalp).
We wouldn’t recommend buying a sunscreen spray for your toddler for two reasons:
- It’s hard to know whether you’ve applied a decent amount of it. As this study points out, most people using sprays end up applying only a quarter of the amount of sunscreen they ought to apply.
- Even the best spray sunscreen for kids poses a risk. Specifically, your child might end up inhaling fumes from the spray, not to mention that some are inflammable.
Opt for a broad-spectrum sunscreen
Kids’ sunscreens aren’t created equal. While some offer protection against both types of UV rays, others only protect against one type.
For best results, always go for sunscreens that are labeled or described as broad-spectrum. This means they protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
The lowdown on SPF and recommendations
SPF stands for sun protection factor. It’s a metric of how effectively a sunscreen can protect against UVB rays. (Protection against UVA light has an entirely different rating system).
So, how do manufacturers calculate the SPF of their sunscreens? They compare the length of time it takes for sunburns to form on skin treated with sunscreen versus untreated skin.
Here’s how sunscreens are rated based on the SPF metric:
- Low protection: SPF between 6 and 10 (such sunscreens offer 75% protection against UVB rays)
- Medium protection: SPF of 15, 20, and 25 (these sunscreens provide 93% protection against UVB rays)
- High protection: SPF 30, 50 (these sunscreens are able to filter out up to 98% of UVB radiation)
When buying sunscreen for your toddler, aim for an SPF rating of at least 15 but not more than 50. Back in 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a proposal recommending an SPF cap of 50+. While the FDA recently changed this limit to 60+, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) still advises against using sunscreens that have an SPF of more than 50.
There are several reasons behind the EWG recommendation:
- Imbalance: While a higher SPF translates to stronger protection against UVB rays, this usually comes at the expense of protection against UVA rays. In other words, as the SPF rating increases, the UVA protection decreases in equal measure.
- A false sense of security: People who buy high SPF sunscreens assume that they can stay in the sun longer, which is wrong. They end up exposing themselves to UVB and UVA rays beyond the point where they’re protected against these rays.
- High SPF sunscreens have considerable health risks: To make these products, manufacturers tend to use very high concentrations of sun-filtering chemicals. While this helps to offer greater protection, such high amounts do more harm than good, and they may trigger allergic skin conditions.
So, even though you should find a child-friendly sunscreen that will offer maximum protection, be wary of those that over-promise. Specifically, avoid sunscreens claiming to have an SPF of more than 50.
Go for a water-resistant sunscreen
Another thing you’ll want to check is whether the sunscreen is described as water-resistant. They provide longer-lasting protection, which is necessary if your child will be around water or plans to go swimming. These sunscreens are known to last 40 to 80 minutes in water.
Nonetheless, it’s important that you reapply the sunscreen when your child comes out of the water. Reapply at least 15 minutes before your child goes outside and then every two hours once they’re outside.
Choose mineral-based sunscreen
It’s also wise to choose a mineral-based as opposed to a chemical-based sunscreen. The latter is formulated with ingredients that may cause harm to the skin.
On the other hand, a mineral sunscreen’s active ingredients are natural minerals like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These work by sitting on top of your skin and creating a barrier against the sun’s rays.
The advantage of a mineral sunscreen over a chemical one is that it doesn’t cause any irritation, making it suitable for a child’s delicate skin.
10 top-rated sunscreens for kids
With a stamp of approval from EWG, here are the best sunscreens for toddlers, babies, and older kids.
1. Badger – SPF 30 Baby Sunscreen Cream
Looking for a kids’ sunscreen that checks all the boxes? This option by Badger does, which is why it’s ranked the best baby sunscreen.
It’s mineral-based, containing zinc oxide as the active ingredient. It’s also broad-spectrum and water-resistant.
Plus, it boasts an SPF rating of 30, offering adequate protection against the sun’s rays. The cream comes in 1-, 2-, and 3-packs, giving you a bit of flexibility when it comes to the quantity.
2. Waxhead Sunscreen for Babies
One, it contains only a few ingredients -6 to be precise-mitigating the risk of potential side effects.
Two, these ingredients are all natural, and they include non-nano zinc oxide, organic olive oil, water, vitamin D, vitamin E, and organic beeswax.
3. Erbaviva Baby Sunscreen
If you’re searching for the best sunblock for babies, especially one suitable for their face, the Erbaviva sunscreen is a pretty good option.
The skin on your child’s face is thinner than on the rest of her body, which makes it more delicate and more susceptible to skin damage. To prevent this, look for a sunscreen with a very gentle formula, like this option from Erbaviva.
It has an SPF of about 30, and it’s mineral-based to minimize the risk of side effects. It also has a really nice scent, which is achieved using purely natural ingredients, such as chamomile and lavender.
4. 3rd Rock Sunblock
Another kids’ sunscreen that comes highly recommended by experts is 3rd Rock Sunblock. The sunscreen lotion, which comes in a 3.3-ounce bottle, is made purely from organic and chemical-free ingredients.
In fact, the manufacturer is very transparent about what’s inside. It contains elements such as Aloe barbadensis leaf gel, jojoba oil, olive oil, vegetable glycerin, and zinc oxide.
Another thing we love about this product is that it protects against both UVA and UVB light. Also, it’s water- and sweat-resistant, making it more effective.
5. Banana Boat Kids Sunscreen Stick
Most parents go for cream and lotion sunscreens, which is good because they’re easy to apply. Still, there are a few reasons why you should also add a sunscreen stick like this option by Banana Boat to your child’s skincare regimen.
It’s the easiest to apply on hard-to-reach spots, and it’s not greasy, which makes for a mess-free application.
The Banana Boat Kids Sunscreen Stick offers 50 SPF protection, and it’s designed with PowerStay technology, boosting its retention rate on your child’s skin.
6. Thinksport Kids SPF 30 Mineral Sunscreen Stick
For families with multiple children, buying sunscreen every time they head for a beach picnic can get expensive fast. Thankfully, there are a couple of wallet-friendly options, notably Thinksport Sunscreen Stick, which retails for under $10.
This sunscreen is just as effective as it is affordable. It’s also an example of a broad-spectrum sunscreen and has an SPF of 30.
It’s mineral-based, too, with zinc oxide as the active ingredient. Other components include sunflower seed oil, coconut oil, papaya fruit extract, and aloe.
7. California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen
Some children have skin that is more sensitive, meaning that it reacts more strongly to stressors typically well tolerated by the average skin.
This skincare product by California Baby is the best children’s sunscreen for sensitive skin. It’s completely free of chemicals, fragrances, and irritants, making it the best choice for toddlers with allergy-prone skin.
It’s formulated with titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. Other components of this chemical-free sunscreen for toddlers include rosemary leaf extract, safflower, and coconut oil.
8. TruBaby Water & Play Protection Sunscreen
If you have kids with different skin types but don’t want to buy a sun-blocking product for each one of them, the TruBaby Sunscreen is a handy option.
Created by a mom of 6, this product is suitable for all skin types. Better yet, it’s ranked one of the safest sunscreen for kids as it doesn’t contain any phthalates or parabens.
If your toddler has a heightened sense of smell, you’ll love this sunscreen even more as it’s completely unscented.
9. Raw Elements Baby + Kids Organic Sunscreen Lotion
Any time you’re traveling with kids, you’re bound to carry a ton of items, even if it’s a simple trip to the beach. The last thing you want is an oversized sunscreen bottle taking up a huge chunk of space in your bag.
Thankfully, the Raw Elements Sunscreen Lotion comes in a very compact tin. Moreover, this tin is reusable, so you’ll be playing your part in protecting the environment.
It’s not just the design that will impress you. The sunscreen itself is premium quality, boasting attributes such as water resistance, natural composition, and an SPF of 30.
10. Made Of Baby Sunscreen
When it comes to kids, you never want to gamble with their skin health. Therefore, using all-natural skin care products is one of the best approaches.
In that regard, this product by Made Of is an excellent baby organic sunscreen. It’s made of 25% natural and 75% organic ingredients, among them coconut and argan oil.
Furthermore, this sunscreen doesn’t contain any gluten, GMO, soy, parabens, phthalates, or synthetic fragrances. This makes it a preferred baby safe sunscreen.
There’s an array of baby sunscreens on the market, so you won’t struggle to find one that works for your child’s skin type, aligns with your budget, and meet your application preferences.
Whichever one you decide to go for, ensure that it complies with the minimum guidelines set by medical experts. It should have an SPF of at least 30 and be water-resistant. Whenever possible, pick a sunscreen that is also broad-spectrum and based on natural minerals.