Baby & Child Sun Care Buying Guide

Baby & Child Sun Care Buying Guide
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Health experts estimate that much of the sun damage we experience in life comes during childhood, which makes it especially important to keep your kids covered. Fortunately, many kid-friendly sunscreen products are available. Our guide will help you pick what you need to keep your family safe when spending time outdoors. Keep the following in mind when selecting baby and child sun care products:

  • Minimize your child’s sun exposure when the sun's rays are the strongest (10 am to 2 pm).
  • Cover your child’s head with a hat and cover skin with clothing in addition to sunscreen, whenever possible, especially during midday sun.
  • Use a water-resistant sunscreen when your child is swimming or sweating a lot.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every one to two hours, or more often according to your child’s activity level and label directions.
  • Healthcare professionals generally recommend a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or higher. As of 2012, product labels, which formerly only measured ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation, are being updated to also include ultraviolet A (UVA) radiation, another skin-damaging sunlight component. To differentiate, labels will now read:
    • Sunscreens that protect only from UVB radiation must state, “This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”
    • Sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB radiation and have an SPF of 15 or higher will be labeled “broad spectrum." 

SPF Defined: SPF—“sun protection factor”—is a measure of the time it would take a person to burn in the sun without sunscreen vs. the time it would take them to burn with sunscreen. SPF 30 is not twice the protection of SPF 15. A product with SPF 15 blocks about 94% of ultraviolet rays, an SPF 30 blocks 97%, and an SPF 45 product blocks 98% of rays, but only for a couple of hours. After that, all sunscreens, regardless of SPF, must be reapplied for full protection.

  • Sunblocks

    What they are: Sunblocks, also called physical sunscreens, consist of finely ground mineral particles such as zinc and titanium, and form a physical “shield” against the sun’s radiation. The two most common physical sunscreen ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

    Why to buy: Sunblocks are less likely to cause skin irritation and rashes than other sunscreens, which makes them an attractive option for young kids and any child with sensitive skin. For parents who prefer to reduce their child’s chemical exposure, health experts advise using physical sun blocks. Many pediatricians recommend only physical sunscreens for children under two years.

    Things to consider: Sunblocks are more expensive than chemical versions and may not be as water- or sweat-resistant, which means they have to be reapplied more frequently to ensure protection. Some physical sunscreens contain fragrance or oils, both of which may irritate skin.

  • All-Natural Sunscreens

    What they are: All-natural sunscreens contain only physical sun blocking ingredients, and may contain herbs and other plant extracts to soothe the skin as well. They do not contain synthetic chemicals, fragrances, or oils.

    Why to buy: All-natural sunscreens are a good option for children with extremely sensitive skin, very young children, and babies.

    Things to consider: All-natural sunscreens tend to be expensive products. They are not resistant to water and sweat, so they may not appropriate for long days at the beach or pool. Be sure to reapply these products often for full sun protection. Despite the higher price, keep in mind that if an all-natural sunscreen prevents rash or skin irritation, it’s less expensive than rash creams or a trip to the doctor’s office.

  • Chemical Sunscreens

    What they are: Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that react with the sun’s radiation as it hits the skin, preventing the rays from harming skin. Common chemical sunscreen ingredients include avobenzone, parsol 1789, dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, cinnamates, cinoxate, ensulizole, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, padimate O, para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), and salicylates.

    Why to buy: Chemical sunscreens are found in many water- and sweat-resistant products, because they tend to have more “staying power” than physical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens tend to be less expensive and come in easy to apply options, such as lotions, gels, sprays, wipes, and sticks.

    Things to consider: Children may have allergic reactions to certain chemical sunscreen ingredients. Common offenders include PABA, cinnamates, and salicylates. If your child has had skin reactions to sunscreens in the past, but you still want the staying power of a chemical sunscreen, try a brand that is free of these chemicals. Also try fragrance-free and oil-free products to minimize skin reactions.

  • Long Wear & Water Resistant Sunscreens

    What they are: Long-wear and water- and sweat-resistant sunscreens are designed to offer the best protection in active situations, such as during outdoor play or when swimming. These products can provide up to 80 minutes of protection, after which time they must be reapplied for full sun protection.

    Why to buy: For active kids, long-wear and water-resistant products may be the only type of sunscreen that truly protects against the sun. If your child is very active, sweats a lot, or is a big swimmer, these products are a good option.

    Things to consider: Many kids complain that long-wear sunscreens feel “sticky” or “greasy” on the skin. While this may be annoying, you can explain that this is the reason these products can stand up to sweat and water while still offering sun protection. New labeling requirements allow a product to be called water “resistant,” but not “waterproof” or “sweat-proof.”