10 top sunscreens for kids

We spoke to the experts to get advice on choosing the best sunscreen to ensure your kid is protected from harmful UVB and UVA rays.

Photo: Daniel Harrison

No parent enjoys spending precious time in the summer rubbing sunscreen onto a screaming toddler or squirming kid, but sunscreen is an important part of preventing skin cancer down the road. So how do you choose the right formula? Here are some things to keep in mind.

Coppertone WaterBabies Whipped, SPF 50

Go for an SPF of 30 to 50
SPF 30
will block approximately 97 percent of UVB rays. Any additional SPF will only block a couple percent more. So even if you apply an SPF 60 to all of your child’s exposed skin, that doesn’t mean they can stay out in the sun all day without reapplying.

Look for the words “broad spectrum”
“Broad spectrum” means a sunscreen sufficiently blocks out both UVA and UVB rays (whereas SPF level only relates to UVB protection). Since both types of rays can cause skin damage and skin cancer, purchasing a broad spectrum sunscreen is non-negotiable.

Read the label
Sunscreens use either chemical active ingredients or minerals (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), and both protect against UV rays. Some chemical ingredients have gotten a bad rap for causing harm when used in extremely high doses in studies on rats. Nonetheless, Shudeshna Nag, a paediatrician specializing in paediatric dermatology at Toronto’s Kindercare Pediatrics, tells families that the bigger, proven concern is the harmful effect of the sun. “What we should be worried about, of course, are the sun’s rays, which are a known carcinogen.”

But if you prefer to err on the side of caution, there are plenty of mineral sunscreens on the market. Nag says some kids will experience skin reactions from certain formulas, whether mineral or chemical, and might need to try different brands to find one that agrees with their skin. Fragrance can be an irritant, so parents of kids with sensitive skin can choose fragrance-free formulas.

Consider the best format
Spray sunscreens are convenient to apply, but aren’t ideal for every child. “Young children have a tendency to inhale sprays, which could irritate their lungs,” says Nag, who adds that we don’t yet know the effects of chronically inhaling these substances. Inhalation is less of a concern for older kids (because you can tell them to hold their breath when applying), but adequate coverage can be an issue because it’s easy to miss spots, so it’s a good idea to apply an extra coating of spray if you use it.

Apply lots and reapply
The promised SPF on the bottle is only accurate if you apply a liberal amount to all of your child’s exposed skin. You’ll go through a bottle, can or stick of sunscreen quite quickly if you’re using it properly. You also need to reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating a lot. After that, the sunscreen is no longer guaranteed to protect to the SPF level listed on its label.

Finally, don’t rely entirely on sunscreen. Whenever possible, try to keep kids in the shade, out of the sun when it’s hottest (typically mid-day), and have them wear sunglasses, hats and as much clothing as possible.

Keep these factors in mind when you’re choosing your kid’s sun protection and you’ll be on your way to a safer summer. And if you need a little help with your selection, here are some picks that meet the criteria for healthy sunscreens.

Read more:
13 worst-scoring sunscreens for kids, as rated by the EWG
How to apply sunscreen
The biggest sunscreen myths debunked

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