Best Children's Sunscreens

Updated September 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best children’s sunscreen

Last Updated September 2020

No matter your age, spending time in the sun unprotected raises your risk of sunburn and other skin damage. That said, children are particularly vulnerable to UV rays because their skin is much more sensitive. Every parent needs a good children’s sunscreen to keep their little ones safe.

Children’s sunscreen isn’t all that different from the sunscreen you usually wear yourself. The active ingredients used to protect against the UV rays are often the same, though children’s formulas typically avoid ingredients that can cause skin irritation as well as tearing or stinging if the sunscreen gets in the eyes. To keep up with a child’s active lifestyle, these sunscreens are usually designed to resist water and sweat, too.

You’ll need to make a few decisions before selecting a children’s sunscreen. For example, would you prefer a mineral or chemical formula? What SPF is ideal for your child? What form of product would be easiest to apply? Read our buying guide for these answers as well as our recommendations for the best children’s sunscreen products.

Because they’re formulated not to irritate delicate skin, children’s sunscreens are also a good option for anyone with sensitive skin.

Key considerations

Mineral vs. chemical sunscreen

There are two types of sunscreen to choose from: mineral and chemical sunscreen.

Mineral sunscreen, sometimes known as physical sunscreen, forms a barrier that reflects UV rays away from the skin. These formulas contain titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or a combination of the two; both natural minerals are approved by the FDA for sun protection. Mineral sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays for complete protection. It isn’t absorbed through the skin, so you don’t have to worry about chemicals getting into your child’s system. Notably, you may need to apply mineral sunscreen more generously than chemical sunscreen to get adequate coverage. Also, mineral sunscreen can sometimes impart a white cast to the skin.

Chemical sunscreen sinks into the skin, where it can then absorb both types of UV rays to prevent burning and skin damage. The most common ingredients in chemical sunscreen include avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, octisalate, octinoxate, and homosalate. Chemical sunscreens usually blend easily into the skin without imparting a white cast. However, the chemicals can sometimes irritate sensitive skin.

Formula

Children’s sunscreen is available in several forms. You may find some forms easier to apply than others. Here are the most common options.

Cream: Sunscreen cream can be messy to apply, but it’s ideal for the face and dry areas that need a little extra hydration.

Gel: Gel is applied similarly to cream, but it works especially well in areas with hair, like your child’s scalp.

Stick: Sunscreen in stick form is excellent for applying to the face without making a mess or getting it in your child’s eyes.

Spray: This may be the easiest formula to apply to a child who won’t stay still. It can be difficult to get even coverage with sunscreen spray, though, and some parents are concerned that their children may breathe in the fumes.

EXPERT TIP

Set a good example for your kids by wearing at least SPF 30 whenever you go outside and practicing other sun safety measures.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

SPF

A sunscreen’s sun protection factor (SPF) determines how much protection it provides against the sun’s UVB rays, which are responsible for skin cancer and the majority of sunburns. The higher a sunscreen’s SPF, the more protection it offers. For example, SPF 30 allows 3% of UVB rays to reach the skin, whereas SPF 50 allows 2% of the rays through.

For children’s sunscreen, a formula with an SPF of at least 30 is ideal. That will ensure that your child’s delicate skin has enough protection to filter away most UVB rays to prevent sunburn, skin damage, and more severe skin issues.

Broad-spectrum

Any sunscreen you choose for your child should be labeled as broad-spectrum. These formulas offer protection against UVA and UVB rays, both of which could potentially harm your child’s skin. UVB rays are the most hazardous because they can cause sunburns and skin cancer, but UVA rays can cause skin damage that leads to premature wrinkling and aging.

Water-resistance

With kids, it’s important to choose a water-resistant sunscreen. You can apply it to your child’s skin when it’s wet, and it provides sun protection while kids are in the water. Most formulas can last for 80 minutes in the water but must be reapplied to ensure adequate sun protection.

Fragrance-free

Sunscreen sometimes has a tropical fragrance reminiscent of old-school sun tan lotion, which often smelled like coconuts. But for children’s sunscreen, you may wish to stick to a fragrance-free formula. That’s because children’s skin is more sensitive and can easily be irritated by synthetic fragrance.

Babies under six months of age shouldn’t use sunscreen. Instead, keep children that young out of the sun entirely.

Accessories

Kids’ sun hat: Sunday Afternoons Play Hat
If your child is going to be outdoors all day, pair their sunscreen with a sun hat for added protection. We love this hat from Sunday Afternoons because it features a UPF50+ certified sun rating and is made of a water-repellent, stain-resistant material for easy care.

Rashguard for kids: Kanu Boys’ Platinum Rashguard
A rashguard can protect kids not just from chafing while surfing or playing other water sports but also from sun exposure. This one from Kanu has a UPF50+ sun rating and a lightweight feel to keep the wearer cool and comfortable.

Beach tent: Pacific Breeze Products Easy Up Beach Tent Deluxe XL
When you’re spending the day at the beach, a beach tent can provide effective shade and protection from the sun for the entire family. This tent from Pacific Breeze is a favorite because it has a UPF50+ sun rating and can comfortably fit up to four people.

EXPERT TIP

No sunscreen can provide complete protection from the sun, so it’s important to take additional precautions with your kids when they spend time outdoors.


Staff  | BestReviews

Children’s sunscreen prices

Children’s sunscreen varies in price based on formula, ingredients, SPF, and container size. Most cost between $6 and $39.

Inexpensive: The most affordable children’s sunscreens are usually stick formulas or smaller containers of cream or gel. They have an SPF of 30 or less and may not offer water resistance. These sunscreens typically cost between $6 and $10.

Mid-range: For $10 to $25, children’s sunscreens come in cream, gel, and spray formulas. They have an SPF of 30 or higher and are typically water-resistant. They’re often fragrance-free, too.

Expensive: The priciest children’s sunscreens are usually cream, gel, and spray formulas with organic ingredients. They offer an SPF of 30 or higher and are water-resistant and fragrance-free. These sunscreens typically cost between $22 and $39.

Tips

  • Time management matters when it comes to sun exposure. While you should always apply sunscreen to your children before they go outdoors, it’s best to keep them out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when its rays are the most powerful.
  • Sunscreen can be paired with other protective gear. For the most complete sun protection for your child, use other protective items as well, such as a wide-brimmed sun hat, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing. Direct your child to play in the shade as much as possible to limit sun exposure.
  • Vigilance is required to temper the burn. If your child looks like they’re developing a sunburn, get them out of the sun immediately. Use cold compresses to bring relief to affected areas.
Your children don’t just need sunscreen in the summer. If they’re going to spend significant time in the sun during the winter months, you should still apply sunscreen.

FAQ

Q. How long before they go outside should I apply sunscreen to my children?
A.
You should apply sunscreen to your kids at least 15 minutes before they plan to head out into the sun. Some brands recommend that you apply it 20 to 30 minutes before sun exposure. It’s also important to reapply. In most cases, you should reapply your children’s sunscreen every one to two hours when they’re playing in the sun. If they’re spending time in the water, reapplication every 80 minutes is the standard recommendation. However, you should always read the label on your particular product to know for sure.
 

Q. How much sunscreen do my kids need for effective coverage?
A.
Sunscreen should be applied to the entire body. That includes the face, ears, scalp, neck, shoulders, back, arms, legs, and any other exposed areas of skin. That typically translates to one full ounce of sunscreen lotion or cream per application — about the equivalent of a shot glass.

Remember to apply lip balm with SPF to the lips, too.
 

Q. Does sunscreen expire?
A.
Yes. The FDA mandates that these products stay effective for at least three years, but most brands print an expiration date somewhere on the container to let you know precisely how long the sunscreen is good for. Throw away sunscreen that has passed its expiration date or that you’ve had for three years or longer.

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