It’s not news to any parent that sunscreen is absolutely essential for kids, starting at age six months. Because of their more delicate skin, children can sunburn easily even on a cloudy day, and according to Canadian Paediatric Society, bad sunburns and too much time spent in the sun without protection have been linked to a higher risk of skin cancer later in life. But year after year, as the weather warms up, we stand at the drugstore aisle asking ourselves, “What’s the best sunscreen for kids?” Besides factors like brand and price—not to mention the annual “mineral versus chemical” sunscreen decision—there’s also the issue of formulation: lotion, spray or stick.
We asked Toronto dermatologist Dr. Julia Carroll for her thoughts on sunscreen lotions, sprays and sticks for kids, plus some other sunscreen questions we’ve been wondering.
Lotion, spray or stick: What’s the best sunscreen for kids?
It’s personal preference. I recommend a lotion as a base, a spray for quick touch-ups and a stick for the face.
The stick gets all the contours and it’s a great way to get kids engaged in the process without a mess. It also doesn’t run with sweat, so it’s great for around the eyes. I like Baby Bum Mineral Sunscreen Face Stick SPF 50.
The stick can be a game-changer because a lot of kids don’t like lotion on their faces.
I also love the current TikTok trend of applying sunscreen [on a child’s face] with a makeup brush. It helps ensure you’re getting full coverage, while the kid feels like they’re getting a face of makeup done! [Editor’s note: Watch the trend in action here.]
With sunscreen spray, some people spray it on their kids but don’t rub it in. Does that work?
It does work, but the ideal way to put it on is to spray it into your hands and then apply. This ensures proper coverage.
How can kids learn to apply their own sunscreen?
I love getting kids involved and having them take ownership of their skin health. I recommend starting by getting them to apply a stick sunscreen to their face. Make it a game! Challenge them to cover every inch of their face and then have them double-check in a mirror.
Is OK to use adult sunscreen on kids?
There’s no major risk, but some sunscreens targeted toward kids are formulated without fragrance, which could cause irritation to sensitive skin.
What’s the No. 1 sunscreen mistake parents make?
Not using enough sunscreen often enough. I recommend a golfball-size amount for the entire body, and it should be applied every two hours, or sooner or if you sweat or get wet.