Finding the right sunscreen for your kids can be difficult. Of course, you want one that’s going to effectively protect them from sunburns (since research finds that five or more bad sunburns before age 20 can increase someone’s risk of melanoma by a whopping 80 percent). But you also want to make sure that what you’re putting on your child’s extra-delicate skin is completely safe.
What to look for in a sunscreen for your children
Regardless of age, always choose a sunscreen that’s broad-spectrum, meaning it blocks both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF 30 at minimum, says Viseslav Tonkovic-Capin, MD, a Kansas City dermatologist and editor of DermBoard.org. UVA rays prematurely age skin, while UVB rays cause sunburns; SPF refers to how much UVB light a sunscreen can filter out.
Spend a lot of time at the pool during the summer? “If your child will be partaking in water activities, make sure to look for a formula that is water-resistant,” says Gretchen Frieling, MD, a dermatopathologist in Boston. A sunscreen can be labeled water-resistant for up to 40 or 80 minutes, so you’ll still have to reapply regularly.
As for the type of sunscreen you use on your offspring, dermatologists advise sticking to mineral (also known as physical) formulas, rather than chemical ones, for a variety of reasons. “I prefer zinc oxide-based products, as unlike chemicals, they block out the full UV spectrum," says Kenneth Mark, MD, a dermatologist and Mohs skin cancer surgeon in New York City. Plus, mineral sunscreens don’t absorb in the skin the way chemical ones do, are generally less irritating and are also better for the environment, notes Tonkovic-Capin.
While spray sunscreens are a popular choice among older kids and teens, Tonkovic-Capin prefers lotions and creams. “Sunscreens are designed to go onto your skin and not into your lungs or the lungs of other people around you when you try to spray it onto your skin,” he says. And as Sheel Desai Solomon, MD, a dermatologist in Raleigh/Durham, points out, “spray makes it difficult to regulate the amount you are putting on, meaning you can put on less than you need.”
How to apply sunscreen to your kids
“Kids need sunscreen and rely on adults to apply it when they are too young to apply on themselves,” says Tess Mauricio, MD, a dermatologist in Beverly Hills. Apply approximately half a teaspoon of sunscreen to your child’s face and one ounce to their entire body, and remember to reapply every two hours (or any time they get wet), adds Susan Bard, MD, a dermatologist in New York City.
Raising a tween or teen? Teaching them about the importance of applying, and reapplying, sunscreen is key, says Solomon. That said, “some teens and young adults are concerned and embarrassed by the shiny residue some sunscreen products leave behind so they apply an insufficient amount of protection,” Solomon says. “If your child has these concerns, talk to them and instill in them the importance of protecting our skin.” Tonkovic-Capin suggests moving on to another brand until you find one you and your kids absolutely like to use.
Other sun safety tips for children
“The biggest misconception is that it is good enough just to use a sunscreen for adequate protection from the sun,” says Tonkovic-Capin. Other steps you should take to keep your kids sun-safe are avoiding taking them out during peak UV hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and putting them in protective clothing, a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses when they are outside, says Hadley King, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. You should also always seek shade when the family is outside.
Get the better newsletter.
The best sunscreens for kids
Ready to start a family sun protection routine you can follow all season long? Below, top dermatologists share their favorite sunscreens for kids.
Neutrogena SheerZinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen SPF 50, Walmart
“This mineral blocker sunscreen contains only zinc oxide for broad-spectrum protection that can be used by anyone, even kids and those with sensitive skin,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. It’s also water resistant up to 80 minutes.
Sunshine & Glitter Sea Star Sparkle SPF 50+ Rainbow Party Glitter, Amazon
For the child who just doesn’t want to wear sunscreen, this glitter-packed sunscreen is a game-changer. “This is a completely mineral based sunscreen and a great way to get kids excited about putting on their sunscreen,” says Bard. As a bonus, the formula is biodegradable.
Bob Kids SPF 30 Brush On Mineral Powder Sunscreen, Amazon
This physical sunscreen is a favorite of King’s. “The powder format is so easy to apply so kids won't complain about goopy sunscreen, there's no smell and it's translucent,” she says. “And the brush is soft and brightly colored so it's fun to apply.” Because it comes in a powder formula, there’s no greasy mess and you don’t have to worry about it stinging your child’s eyes, King adds. You can also throw it in your bag for easy re-application.
Aveeno Kids Continuous Protection Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, Walmart
Solomon cites Aveeno as one of her go-to brands when looking for a good kids’ sunscreen. This mineral sunscreen has a mild, hypoallergenic formula that won’t cause irritation or stinging, and it’s water resistant for 80 minutes.
Babyganics SPF 50+ Sunscreen Lotion, Walmart
Another brand Solomon likes is Babyganics. For the littlest of little ones, this mineral formula not only protects a baby’s delicate skin with SPF 50, it also nourishes with a seed oil blend.
Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid SPF 50, Ulta
Mark likes this sunscreen for kids because it’s made with 21% zinc oxide and safe for babies six months and up. “It’s also free of fragrance, parabens, phthalates, dyes and irritating chemicals,” he says.
ProActiv Daily Oil Control SPF 30, Ulta
Teens in the midst of acne breakouts may not be too keen on applying sunscreen. Enter this formula (which is chemical, rather than physical), a favorite of Mauricio. “For older kids and teenagers who are starting to have issues with oily skin, clogged pores, whiteheads, black heads and acne, this sunscreen can help add moisture, reduce shine and also protect the skin from UV damage,” she says.
MORE TIPS FROM DERMATOLOGISTS
Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.