Best Baby & Kid’s Sunscreens of 2014
~ Just to reiterate, I don’t receive any freebies or compensation for any of the products reviewed — ever!
A huge thanks to Carol Collins, Ph.D., for compiling this research!
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… I am now well on my way to becoming a leathery old hag.
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 Houston.” [SkinCancer.org]So I think we can all agree that protecting your child’s skin is important so they don’t grow up looking like Magda in “There’s Something about Mary“.
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.
Last summer on our beach trip, baby Alice spent many an afternoon chilling in our beach tent and wiggling around in the sand. I recommend the Coleman Road Trip Beach Shade (below).
Coleman Road Trip Beach ShadeBaby Sunscreen 101
Sunscreen vs. Sunblock
Technically speaking, sunSCREENS use chemicals to absorb UV rays; sunBLOCKS use minerals, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to physically deflect rays from the skin. These terms are often used interchangeably, so it’s a little confusing. Case in point: all of the recommended kid’s “sunscreens” below are actually 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”].
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 sunrays out away from the body like tin foil. Chemical ingredients [found in sunscreens] are absorbed into the skin to deal with sunrays 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.
Screens and blocks come in lotions, sprays and sticks. I prefer to use sticks on the face, sprays for toddlers [and other squirmers] and lotion for infants.
So, what’s good?
The Best Sunblocks for Babies, Toddlers and Children
* How did we decide? We weighed input from SkinCancer.org, EWR (Environmental Working Group), Consumer Reports, and loads of user reviews. Read below the recommendations for “sunscreen controversies”.
For whatever reason, some of these products are a bit hard to find (i.e. they are definitely not found at your local Walgreens or Piggly Wiggly. Sorry.)
1. Thinkbaby Sunscreen SPF 50+ ~ $14 (3 oz) ~ Can also be found at Whole Foods, drugstore.com and Target (sometimes)
Currently the highest-rated baby sunscreen on multiple sites, with 118 reviews on Amazon averaging 4.5/5 stars, ThinkBaby is a broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection with SPF 50+, “very water resistant” (up to 80 minutes in the water). ThinkBaby is Paraben and PABA-free and received an an “excellent” for UVA and SPF protection from EWG’s Skin Deep scores (not that we put that much stock into the questionable science of EWG, but…. just sayin).
* Active ingredients Zinc Oxide 20% [Non-nano]
2. Blue Lizard Baby Sunsceen, Baby – SPF 30+ ~ $15 (5 oz)
Australians, dogg. 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 “baby” formulation, with no chemical absorbers, offers broad photostable UVA/UVB protection and protects skin for up to 4 hours of activity. *New formula is PABA-free
* Active ingredients ~ 10% Zinc Oxide and 5% Titanium Dioxide [Non-Nano]
3. Burnout KIDS SPF 35 ~ $18 (3.4 oz)
The best of all worlds, this formula offers UVA/UVB broad-spectrum protection, is very water-resistant, won’t run into eyes, is non-greasy and perfect for sensitive skin.
~ A couple of reviewers claimed this formula has changed, but they are incorrect, the “KIDS” formula has NOT changed.
* Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide (non-nano) 18.9%
4. Neutrogena Pure Free Baby Sunblock Lotion SPF 60 ~ $11 (3 oz)
We’ve used this for years and my favorite part is that it’s not greasy or oily, like the others. This sunscreen is waterproof, sweatproof, hypoallergenic, non-greasy, oil-, fragrance- and PABA-free. And SPF 60, what? Awesome.
* DOES contain retinyl palmitate (Vitamin A), so look elsewhere if you’re opposed.
* Active ingredients ~ Titanium Dioxide (4.9%), Zinc Oxide (4.7%). [Non-nano]
5. Badger Baby Sunscreen Cream ~ $14 (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. And I’ll admit, the base of sunflower oil, beeswax & vitamin E is rather soothing. Yes, it’s waterproof up to 40 minutes.
*** The Badger Baby sunscreen LOTIONS (not the creams) were all recalled in February of 2014 due to microbial contamination. New lotions will be reformulated and released in early 2015. ***
* Active Ingredients ~ 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. 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).
Our two favorites:
1. All Terrain KidSport Sunscreen Spray, SPF 30 ~ $13 (3 oz)
One of the few decent sprays on the market, this one is easy to apply and spreads well; waterproof for 80 minutes; it’s non-whitening and non-greasy; we love it!
* Active ingredients ~ 19% Zinc Oxide [Non-nano]
2. BabyGanics Cover Up Baby Moisturizing Sunscreen Spray SPF 50 ~ $15 (6 oz)Water resistant for 80 minutes and SPF 50, this kid-friendly sunscreen in great for long days at the beach or pool. Contains no PABA, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, retinyl palmitate or fragrances.
BUY ON AMAZON FOR $13 ~ also available as a stick
* Active ingredients ~ Octinoxate 7.5%, Octisalate 5.0%, Zinc Oxide 11.2% [Non-nano]
FYI — There are lots of good sunblocks out there, but many of them are only available through specialty websites, which I tried to avoid. Other sunscreens that deserve honorable mention are Aveeno Baby Natural Protection, Honest Sunscreen by the Honest Company, and California Baby (ding’d for being REALLLY expensive AND because they won’t state whether they use nanoparticles or not).
Remember: sunscreen is just part of the equation that also includes protective clothing, hats and eye protection, and staying out of sun when the rays are strongest, between 10am and 2pm.
The 3 main controversies (of late) of sunscreens (particularly for children) look something like this:
1. 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 ghosty 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 sun blocks that contain “micronized” particles rather than nanoparticles. [Technically, a nano particle 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? Ok good.
Essentially, the jury is still out on this, folks. The American Academy of Dermatology [AAD] says “Considerable research on the use of nanoparticles on healthy, undamaged skin has shown that the stratum corneum – the outermost layer of the skin – is an effective barrier to preventing the entry of nanoparticles into the deeper layers of the skin.” [AAD 2012]; still, others suggest otherwise. Basically, nobody knows for sure. *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.
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 might be an endocrine disruptor, which could affect the nervous system, has been linked to cancer in some laboratory studies and creates free-radicals when exposed to the sun. Woohoo!
The jury is out on this one as well: According to the AAD, “Available peer-reviewed scientific literature and regulatory assessments from national and international bodies do not support a link between oxybenzone in sunscreen and hormonal alterations, or other significant health issues in humans,” claims Dr. Siegel. [AAD 2012]
However, many pediatricians warn parents to avoid oxybenzone. So… yeah. *All of the products I recommend [above] are free of oxybenzone. Just in case.
3. 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. So… 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? Pssshh. Fuggetaboutit.
So go getcha’ some kiddie sunscreen and enjoy the summer!