Best Sunscreen for Kids and Infants

Sunscreen and Sun Safety

Mother applying sunscreen to child's face
Image Source/Digital Vision/Getty Images

What is the best sunscreen for kids?

When choosing a sunscreen for their baby, toddler, or young child, parents typically make their choice on a sunscreen using only a few characteristics:

  • the highest SPF they can find, typically 50+ or 100+
  • a kids' brand (Aveeno Baby, Banana Boat Kids, California Baby, Coppertone Kids, Coppertone Waterbabies, Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids, Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby, etc.)

    While it is fine to use these, they are really not that much different from those that are made for adults, so you don't necessarily have to buy a separate sunscreen just for your kids.

    Remember that a sunscreen isn't better just because it is more expensive. In fact, some of the highest rated sunscreens in a Consumer Reports test were the least expensive, including Up & Up Sport Continuous Spray SPF 30 (Target) and Walgreens Sport Continuous Spray SPF 50. All of the most popular sunscreen brands tested by Consumer Reports tested either good or very good, though.

    What's New in Sunscreens

    While sunscreen sprays were recently the latest and greatest sunscreen technology that everyone had to have and try, this year you will find many new types of sunscreens, including those that are:

    • tear free
    • foaming lotions
    • wet skin sprays
    • non-greasy or dry touch lotions that are non-comedogenic (won't cause pimples)

      While I usually think many new ideas are just gimmicks to sell more of the same old products, if you have ever gotten sunscreen in your child's eye, you will welcome the tear-free sunscreens.

      Best Sunscreens

      Things to look for that would indicate that you are buying the 'best sunscreen,' include that it:

      • provides broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection.
      • has an SPF of at least 15 to 30. You could go for a higher SPF, but most experts believe that these high SPF sunscreens don't provide that much extra protection. Some experts go as far as to say the SPF rating should be capped at SPF 30 or SPF 50, which provides protection against 97 to 98 percent of UVB rays. Using a high SPF sunscreen might provide more protection for those parents who don't use enough sunscreen and don't reapply it often enough, though.
      • is water-resistant. Even if you aren't going swimming, if your child is outside, he will likely be sweating, so a water resistant might provide better protection than a regular sunscreen.
      • is hypoallergenic and fragrance-free, especially if your child has sensitive skin.
      • is in a form that is easy to use on your child, whether that means it is a stick, gel, lotion, spray, or continuous spray, etc.

      New sunscreen rules from the FDA have made it easier to choose a sunscreen. The new rules require testing for broad-spectrum sunscreens, new labels that make it easier to see all sunscreen ingredients, and restrictions on terms like waterproof and sweatproof.

      Broad-Spectrum Sunscreens

      Unfortunately, many sunscreens that say that they are broad-spectrum really aren't or don't block rays from the full UVA spectrum. To get good protection from UVA rays, look for sunscreens that list avobenzone, titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide as one of their ingredients, in addition to one or more sunscreen ingredients that provide UVB protection.

      Sunscreen Ingredients

      If your child gets a rash from his sunscreen, you might review the sunscreen ingredient list and choose a different one next time. Make sure to choose one that is PABA free. You might also look for one that gets its UVA protection from a sunblock, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, since they can be less irritating than avobenzone, a common sunscreen ingredient.

      Be sure to apply it to just a small area of your child's skin if you think he might have a reaction to the new sunscreen too.

      Of all of the sunscreen ingredients, the ones that may concern some parents include retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) and oxybenzone. Although many experts already think they are safe, if you are concerned, you can choose to avoid them by looking for sunscreens with different ingredients.

      Kid-Friendly Sunscreen and Sunblock

      The best sunscreens and sunblock that have all of the characteristics that you would look for to protect your kids from the sun include:

      • AVEENO Baby Natural Protection Lotion Sunscreen with Broad Spectrum SPF 50
      • Banana Boat  Kids Stick Sunscreen SPF 50
      • Coppertone Water BABIES Pure & Simple Sunscreen Lotion (SPF 50)
      • Coppertone KIDS Wet'n Clear Sunscreen Spray (SPF 50)
      • Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Faces Ultra Gentle Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 45+

      Parents should a avoid low SPF sunscreen or suntan lotion, which won't provide enough sun protection for kids.

      Getting Extra Sun Protection

      Other elements of a good sun protection plan, in addition to traditional sunscreen creams, lotions, and sprays, should include that you consider having your kids:

      • wear a hat or cap, with a wide-brimmed hat offering the best protection
      • apply a lip balm that includes a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or above
      • wear real sunglasses that block 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays
      • wear clothing made of tightly-woven fabric or sun protection clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of 15 (good sun protection) to 50+ (excellent sun protection)
      • avoid medications, when possible, that can make them more sensitive to getting a sunburn
      • get alternative, safer forms of vitamin D than unprotected exposure to the sun's UV rays, including vitamins, milk, and other vitamin D-fortified foods.

      And be sure to avoid or limit sun exposure when the sun is at its strongest, from about 10 a.m. to 4p.m.


      Auerbach: Wilderness Medicine, 5th ed.

      Consumer Reports Health. Sunscreen Ratings. July 2010. Accessed July 2010.

      Ramirez R. Practical guide to sun protection. Surg Clin North Am - 01-FEB-2003; 83(1): 97-107.

      Continue Reading