Buying sunscreen for babies and children involves a little more care and caution in the shopping aisle, since kids have thinner, more fragile skin. Across the board, the dermatologists I spoke to for this story recommended mineral sunscreens—ones containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide—“because we know they offer the broadest protection against UVA and UVB sun rays and tend to be less irritating to the skin,” says Vikash Oza, director of pediatric dermatology at NYU Langone Health.
And thankfully, most sunscreens designed for babies and children are already designed as mineral sunscreens, “so they physically block the sun, whereas chemical sunscreens absorb into your skin,” explains dermatologist Lindsey Bordone—an assistant professor of dermatology at the Columbia University Medical Center. They’re also less likely to contain a UV filter like oxybenzone, a common ingredient in chemical sunscreens that has the potential to disrupt your hormones.
To hear more about the best ways to shield your kids from the sun, we asked three dermatologists to weigh in on what are the best sunscreens for children, and suggest other types of sun protection that should be used at the same time.
As a general rule, Bordone always looks for sunscreens that are around SPF 40 or higher, since parents have a tendency to not apply or reapply often enough. “The amount of sunscreen you need to get the SPF amount on the bottle is quite a lot.” Oza says you should be fine over SPF 30, provided that you’re putting on enough, but could probably cap your search at about SPF 50, since past that point there isn’t much added sun protection.
Bordone recommends mineral sunscreens from bigger brands like Neutrogena and Aveeno because they’ve been around a long time and have been tested for efficacy. This Neutrogena one, for example, is designed for babies with a broad-spectrum SPF 50 shield, and is dermatologist-tested, water-resistant, and hypoallergenic for sensitive skin.
Aveeno also makes a popular mineral lotion sunscreen for babies that’s designed for sensitive baby skin, and is water- and sweat-resistant. “I tend to find that you’re able to get an adequate amount onto the skin when you’re using sunscreens in cream and lotion form,” says Oza.
The only downside of using a mineral sunscreen is that they tend to leave a white cast on your skin, which is why Bordone recommends Replenix’s sunscreens. “It doesn’t make you look so pasty.” This one’s a family size if you have many little ones to slather up, comes with SPF 50 sun protection, and contains added skin-boosting antioxidants.
Dermatologist Debra Jaliman, an assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, recommends Badger Baby’s sunscreen because it’s 100 percent certified natural, hypoallergenic, and safe for sensitive skin, plus tested by pediatricians.
Jaliman says this Babyganics sunscreen is also very safe for babies and children, since it’s free of fragrances and parabens, tear-free, and zinc-oxide based. It’s also water-resistant for 80 minutes if you have kids that want to play in the water.
And for something that should be readily available at a drugstore, Jaliman also likes this Coppertone baby sunscreen, since it’s hypoallergenic, water-resistant, and tested by pediatricians and dermatologists.
Arguably as important as sunscreen for younger kids is sun-protective clothing, which my experts say can often be more reliable as a sun shield than sunscreen if you’re calculating in human error (“We know that patients don’t put on enough of it”), the fact that sunscreen washes off in water, and that kids don’t love the feel of a pasty white film on their skin.
“They’re very breathable and they’re 50 SPF for the most part, and they sell them very inexpensively. You put them on and leave them on the whole day,” says Bordone.
For babies, Oza says the most important thing is that they’re wearing a light, breathable fabric. This Breathe Easy sun-protection shirt, for example, is moisture-wicking and UV-protected, with light, perforated fabric that would keep any baby or toddler protected.
Here’s a swimsuit that covers your baby’s arms and legs entirely.
And for bigger kids (up to six years of age), here’s another rash-guard-style swim tee that they can wear in the water.
Besides sunscreen, kids should also be wearing something to protect their head. “Hats are huge because they’re offering a wide brim that’s protecting the back of your neck and your face,” says Oza.
This swim hat for kids and toddlers is super-reviewed on Amazon and comes with a longer flap at the back of the head to fully provide shade for the neck and face.
“Sunglasses, too, are important for protecting the eyelids, which has very thin skin,” Oza says. These Wayfarer sunglasses are wildly popular for babies and kids (sized from babies less than a year old to kids up to 10 years of age), and they’re made from a flexible, rubberized plastic to withstand being tossed around by a small child. Most importantly, they block 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation.