Short Answer: Good question! You want to protect your kids from damaging burns, but you also want to protect them from the harmful chemicals found in some sunscreens. Want to be sure your child’s sunscreen is safe? Read on to learn the ingredients you should watch out for.

First off, sunscreen should be a last resort. (You want to keep infants under 6 months out of the sun all together.) In general, try covering kids up with UV protectant clothing and bring an umbrella or canopy to the beach so kids can build sandcastles in the shade. Also, stay inside during the hottest part of the day and always protect eyes with UV protective sunglasses.

Broad Spectrum Formula

For those times when sun exposure can’t be avoided, choose a broad spectrum formula designed for kids. Some sunscreens don’t protect against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are the ones that get under skin and are responsible for wrinkling, aging, and skin cancer. UVB rays are the ones responsible for turning you red and causing a sunburn.  

You want a sunscreen that protects your child against both, also referred to as “Broad Spectrum”. Lucky for us moms, the primary ingredients in natural sunscreens (Zinc Oxide or Titanium Oxide) do the job. Be sure you check for the Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB wording on labels.

Natural Sunscreens

We also look for natural sunscreen brands that do not contain Phthalates, Parabens, PEG’s (polyethylene glycols), Propylene Glycol, or SLS/SLES. In particular you want to watch out for Oxybenzone. This is a synthetic chemical that functions as an endocrine disruptor which has been linked to cancer in some laboratory studies. It can also impact the nervous system and it creates harmful free-radicals when exposed to the sun (which…hello, sunscreen, it’s going to be in the sun). Just say no to Oxybenzone!

A safer choice is to select a sunscreen that uses mineral (also called physical) sunscreen which usually contains Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide. Either works, but some preliminary studies suggest Titanium Dioxide may be carcinogenic to humans. While these studies are not yet conclusive, until more research is done, we personally choose Zinc Oxide products just to be on the safe side.  

You may also want to consider whether the Zinc Oxide consists of micronized or nano particles. There are some concerns that nano particles have a higher photo-reactivity and may generate free-radicals as a result. So while we are okay with micronized zinc, we avoid sunscreens that use nano particles (smaller than 100nm).  

Lotions Versus Sprays

Lastly, when it comes to sunscreen formulas, we prefer lotions or creams instead of sprays. While sprays may be more convenient, they don’t cover as well as lotions and creams unless you are super diligent and reapply often. Also, you don’t want to spray sunscreen on your child’s face because inhaling aerosol isn’t a good idea. The ingredients for sprays also tend to separate in the bottle, which meansyou have to shake them all the time. Too much hassle for us.

This is why we stick with lotions and creams. There are also sunscreen sticks on the market, but there are some studies indicating that people tend to apply too little sunscreen or miss spots when using sticks, so we avoid them too.  

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) reviewed sunscreens specifically marketed for use on babies and kids and came up with their list of the best 22 sunscreen lotions for kids.  You can see the EWG’s score cards and list of the best kids’ sunscreen lotions here. Our personal favorites are below.

Beenke’s Favorite Kiddie Sunscreens

  • Loving Naturals – Adorable Baby Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30+
    • Active Ingredient – Non-Nano Zinc Oxide 24.7%
    • Natural sunscreens are notorious for not blending in well, but this one is clear so it does.  Hallelujah!
  • Badger All Natural Sunscreens, SPF 30+
    • Active Ingredient – Non-nano, uncoated Zinc Oxide 14-18.75%
    • Badger has very few ingredients, all of them natural. They’ve also made active sunscreens with safe non-nano particles, that stay on for swimming, but don’t feel super sticky and aren’t overly white.

Both these sunscreens work great and give us the peace of mind knowing our child’s sunscreen is safe.