What is the best baby sunscreen? We consulted with pediatricians and dermatologists for advice on the best sunscreen for baby. Then we rounded up a dozen of the most popular baby sunscreens and asked parents to give them a try. Which were easiest to apply? Best for sensitives skin? Affordable? Here are the ones we recommend for your baby!
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Let’s talk sunscreen and babies—sunscreen is recommended for all babies over six months of age. (For younger ones, the recommendation is to keep sun off baby, with a hat, clothing, sunglasses, etc).
Sunscreen comes in two basic varieties: chemical and mineral. This article just focuses on mineral sunscreens. These typically contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide as the main active ingredient.
The current thought is that mineral (also called natural) sunscreens are best for young children, as the some of the ingredients of chemical sunscreens have come under scrutiny by government health agencies.
But here’s the truth about mineral sunscreens: they don’t work as well as chemical ones at protecting the skin. And mineral sunscreens must be re-applied every two hours to be effective. That means you can’t put some on at 9am and expect it to protect your child all day.
Mineral sunscreens are also somewhat more difficult to put on (they don’t rub in well) and sometimes leave behind a white film.
The take home message: use both clothing (rash guard at the pool, hats, sunglasses) and sunscreen on any exposed skin areas to block the sun.
After trying out several different baby sunscreens with actual parents and babies, we pick Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen as the best overall. It performed best in our tests and is water resistant for 80 minutes. Here’s more:
What We Liked
• Less irritation of the skin compared to others we tested.
• Smooth texture.
• UVA/UVB broad spectrum.
• Made in USA.
• No avobenzone, oxybenzone, parabens, phthalates, PABA, 1,4 dionxane and UV chemical absorbers.
• No nano-particles.
• No reef-damaging chemicals. Hawaii has banned sunscreen that has oxybenzone and octinoxate. This sunscreen doesn’t have those chemicals.
What Needs Work
• Effort required to work it into skin. It takes some time to apply.
Mineral based sunscreen can be pricey, we know! Good news: we found Babyganics sunscreen to be both effective AND easy on the wallet. In some cases, this sunscreen was 45% to 65% less per ounce than others we tested. Here’s more:
What We Liked
• Water resistant to 80 minutes.
• UVA/UVB protection.
•Plant-derived organic ingredients.
• No PABA, phthalates, parabens, fragrances or nano particles.
• No animal testing.
• Tear free. Doesn’t sting when it gets in eyes.
What Needs Work
• Thick and greasy. Yep, this sunscreen was thicker/greasier than others we tested—and took some effort to rub in.
• Chalky residue on skin.
• Contains octisalate. Some parents avoid sunscreens with octisalate because of allergy concerns. While it is generally considered safe, some countries (notably Japan) limit its use in cosmetics.
We tried out several popular baby sunscreens that say they are good for sensitive skin. After testing, we thought Baby Bum was the best bet for those babies with sensitive skin. Here’s why:
What We Liked
• Coconut oil, shea butter and cocoa butter made babies with sensitive skin happy, said our testers.
• No parabens, sulfate, silicone or phthalates.
• No fragrance.
• No nano particles.
What’s Needs Work
• Leaves white residue.
• Can be difficult to apply. We also see a few reports of allergic reactions to this sunscreen (rashes, etc). We didn’t see that in our tests, but you may want to test this sunscreen first on a small patch of skin.
We know it is subjective, but based on our testing, we think Aveeno Baby’s Continuous Protection Mineral sunscreen had the best scent. Or put another way, it offended the least number of parents who tried it!
Sunscreen does have that sunscreen-y smell—but Aveeno’s sunscreen actually smells pleasant. And it is quite effective.
What We Liked
• Broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection.
• Nice smell. Yes, this sunscreen says it is fragrance free . . . but thanks to other ingredients, it does have a pleasant scent.
• No parabens, phthalates.
• Contained the most zinc oxide (21.6%) of all the sunscreens recommended in this article. Zinc oxide is the ingredient that does the sun blocking.
• Colloidal oatmeal. That makes this sunscreen good for sensitive skin, based on our hands-on testing.
• Water resistant for 80 minutes.
What Needs Work
• Very thick. And as a result, it can be hard to apply.
• Leaves a white film.
• Can be hard to wash off. But that is true for most mineral sunscreen, of course!
7 Things No One Tells You About Buying Sunscreen!
1. Avoid using sunscreen when baby is under 6 months of age, as much as possible.
Try to avoid the sun between 10 am and 4 pm or use long sleeve, loose clothing and hats to avoid sun exposure. But if you can’t avoid exposing your infant to the sun, definitely use sunscreen. Babies under 6 months have a greater risk of skin irritation when using sunscreen, but the risk of skin cancer later in life outweighs potential irritation. Some specially formulated “baby” sunscreens claim to be milder.
2. Broad spectrum is best.
But what does “broad spectrum” really mean? The type of solar radiation dermatologists worry about is UV radiation. But there are two types to be concerned about: UVA and UVB. UVA causes skin to lose elasticity leading to wrinkles and premature aging, UVB causes sunburn and both play significant roles in developing skin cancers later in life.
Broad spectrum sunscreens help block both UVA and UVB, so make sure your sunscreen calls this out on the label.
Yep, you’ve seen SPF on sunscreen bottles since you were a kid, but what does it really mean? SPF actually means that you can stay out in the sun X times longer than if you used nothing on your skin at all. So if you typically start to burn in 20 minutes with no sunscreen, once you put on sunscreen with an SPF of 30, you can theoretically stay out in the sun for a total of 10 hours—assuming you are using it correctly.
So the higher the number, the better the protection, right? Wrong! Dermatologists note the amount of improved protection in an SPF over 30 (say 45, 50 or 70) is negligible. Instead, dermatologists recommend parents use sunscreen of at least 30 and apply it more frequently. FYI: Our top recommendation here is for a 70 SPF because it is the most affordable option as of this writing. Again, a 30 or 50 would also be fine!
Lab tests of sunscreen have revealed that many sunscreens offer less protection than promised on the label. This is one reason why we will constantly urge you to reapply sunscreen–if your brand isn’t up to snuff, reapplying frequently will offer more protection.
One caveat to our SPF rule: sometimes it is easier to find SPF 50 or 70 sunscreen at a lower price than SFP 30 (such as our top pick above). In general, we try to pick the best sunscreen (at least 30 SPF) at the most affordable price!
4. Reapply, reapply, reapply.
You’re going to get tired of hearing this!
No doubt you’ve noticed most sunscreens claim to be water resistant for between 40 and 80 minutes. So you figure you’ve got it covered for at least a few hours of brief interludes in the pool and more time spent on land. But the experts we’ve talked to all advise putting sunscreen on every one to two hours regardless of your activities.
Why? Easy answer: it rubs off, sweats off, washes off. So putting it on once a day is better than nothing, but putting it on every couple hours is a whole lot better. Stephen Alain Ko’a, a cosmetic chemist and skincare expert, explains why:
“The reason why reapplication is recommended is because we often don’t apply enough in the first place and it’s constantly being removed from our skin (by rubbing off, sweating, etc.). Reapplication helps ensure that we have a minimum density of 2 milligrams per square centimeter of sunscreen on our skin and that we maintain that density throughout the day.”
5. How much is enough?
Great question. In fact, most dermatologists note that people hardly ever put enough sunscreen on when they use it. Experts say you need 2 milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. Nicki Zevola Benvenuti, a writer for FutureDerm.com, has a mathematician’s explanation for how much you really need to put on.
Bottom line: she says apply ¼ teaspoon of sunscreen to your face. For the rest of your body, you likely will need about an ounce. You can use a half a shot glass or a small measuring cup (see photo below; OXO 2 oz. measuring cup) to make sure you’re using enough. Unfortunately, the amount shown is for an adult, but if you use ¼ to ½ that amount for a child, you should be good.
6. Which type of sunscreen is better: chemical, mineral (physical) or a combination of the two?
Although it’s technically a misnomer, “mineral” (also referred to as “physical”) sunscreens are those whose active ingredients are zinc oxide, titanium oxide or a combination of the two. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are “inorganic” compounds (no carbon atoms are involved in these compounds). That’s why these sunscreens are referred to as mineral or physical.
“Chemical” sunscreens use one or more of these following compounds:
Tinosorb M Kocti
Finally, “combination” sunscreens use both mineral and chemical compounds to absorb/reflect UV radiation.
Bottom line: after studying this issue for many years, we think the science just isn’t there to claim that one type of sunscreen is better/safer than another—it’s beyond the scope of this article to delve into the arguments for or against. We do recommend if you choose mineral sunscreens, select one with at least 5% zinc or titanium oxide.
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, we recommended mineral sunscreens instead of chemical ones for this article. That’s because most of our readers expressed concerns about possible side effects of chemical sunscreens (studies are ongoing into the safety of chemical sunscreens and children).
Suffice it to say, most dermatologists and pediatricians will tell you the best sunscreen is the one you will use on a regular basis.
7. Keep baby undercover.
In the end, there is really only one way to keep your child’s skin safe from UV radiation: never leave the house. Since that’s not realistic, consider the second best way: cover him or her up. Clothing, particularly tightly woven clothing is a great way to protect baby’s skin without using sunscreens. You can try sun suits and swim suits that cover baby’s arms and legs (many are made especially for wearing in the sun with SPF ratings), then add a broad brimmed hat and sunglasses. Bonus: this looks very cute for pictures!
Why Trust Us
We’ve been rating and reviewing baby care essentials, including sunscreen since 1994. We do hands-on testing—we buy the products with our own money and evaluate with an eye toward safety, ease of use and affordability.
Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Baby Bargains is your independent and unbiased source for expert baby product reviews.
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Why trust us
We don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Baby Bargains is your independent and unbiased source for reviews of products for the family, parents and the home. We’ve been writing and reviewing gear since 1994.
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