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Best Sunscreen for Babies of 2024
January 4, 2024

Best Sunscreen for Babies of 2024

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Best Sunscreen for Babies of 2024.
Best Sunscreen for Babies of 2024

Everybody needs their Vitamin D, and getting a dose of fresh sunshine is the best way to get it.

But as we all know, too much of a good thing can be, well, a bad thing. From sunburns to skin damage to skin cancer, exposure to direct sunlight can have harmful effects—especially on young, sensitive skin.

Enter: Sunscreen.

Do Babies Need Sunscreen?

You shouldn’t slather sunscreen all over babies under six months old. Instead, keep them out of direct sun and use preventive measures like seeking out shade (or making your own with a beach or shade tent), outfitting them in sun hats, light and breathable long sleeves and long pants (or clothes with sun protection of UPF 30 or higher), and avoiding times of intense rays between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

But we get it, sometimes you can’t avoid direct sunlight. In that case, “if any areas of the body are not covered for some reason, like the face, backs of hands, or any other part, then yes, please apply sunscreen!” says pediatrician Dr. Tracey Agnese. Stick to mineral sunscreens (more on that in a moment) that come in lotion or stick form.

The above guidance also applies to babies six months and older—and you, too!—but once they’re around that age, you can start to apply sunscreen to them as well. Since a sunburn can happen in as little as 10 minutes—depending on how fair your skin is and the time of day—you’ll want to have a baby-friendly sunscreen handy. And remember, it takes time for sunscreen to do its magic, so be sure to apply it 30 minutes before sun exposure.

The key thing to remember: sunscreen should be a secondary preventative measure against sunburn. The most important thing to do is to limit direct sun exposure (find or create shade) and keep baby’s skin covered. Applying sunscreen is still an important step that you shouldn’t leave out of your outdoor routine, but always use sunscreen in addition to other preventative measures.

Another thing to keep in mind: “Indirect sun can cause a burn too,” says Dr. Agnese, “so be mindful of a situation where sunlight gets reflected back onto them, like a pool.” So be sure to apply sunscreen even if kiddo is fully shaded, because you never know where UV rays might be reflected onto their skin.

What Types of Sunscreen are Safe for Babies?

When choosing a sunscreen to use on your child, look for these five key components:

  1. Broad-spectrum coverage: Since UVB rays cause sunburns and UVA rays can prematurely age skin and cause melanoma, choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect from both types of rays.

  2. Mineral/physical blockers: Chemicals like oxybenzone and octisalate are often used in non-mineral sunscreens and work by sinking into the skin and then absorbing and deferring UV rays. Those chemicals can potentially irritate sensitive skin, so it’s best to go with natural blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are hypoallergenic. These minerals sit on top of the skin and reflect away both UVA and UVB rays (a.k.a. broad-spectrum coverage). While it’s fine to use chemical sunscreens on older kids and adults with healthy skin (i.e. skin that’s not sensitive or prone to eczema or rashes), dermatologists recommend only using mineral sunscreens on babies and toddlers.

  3. Water resistant: Sunscreens labeled “water resistant” will stand up to sweat and water for either 40 or 80 minutes (check the label to see what the specific formula provides). You will need to reapply sunscreen after this time period.

  4. At least SPF 15: This is the minimum SPF number that will protect against burns and cancer-causing rays. SPF 50 is the most common in baby sunscreen, and higher SPF provides marginally more protection.

  5. A lotion sunscreen: Sunblocks come in sticks, sprays and lotions. Sprays can make application easy on an antsy toddler, but they still need to be rubbed onto the skin in order to provide adequate coverage. Plus, their small particles can be inhaled and cause lung irritation. Most importantly, parents often don’t apply enough sunscreen when using an aerosol spray or they miss spots, leading to unexpected sunburn. Sticks are great for small, targeted areas, especially on baby’s face, but they’re not practical for full-body coverage and should be used alongside a lotion. Although lotions take more time to apply, they’re worth it to make sure your baby is fully covered. Be sure to rub it in well, and make sure all the exposed parts are covered—don’t forget tops of feet, backs of knees, ears and lips too. And apply it above where shirts or shorts end, in case they ride up during play.

In addition to these things to look for, let’s define some key terms you’re likely to see on sunscreen bottles.

  • Broad Spectrum: Sunscreen that provides the same amount of protection against both UVA and UVB rays
  • Mineral: type of sunscreen that uses minerals (active ingredients are typically zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, also known as physical blockers) to repel UV rays, as opposed to chemical blockers that absorb UV rays (and also absorb into your skin—mineral sunscreens don’t absorb into your skin, but sit on top). Think of mineral/phycial blockers as wearing mirrors over your skin, whereas chemical blockers are more like covering yourself in sponges.
  • Non-Allergenic/Hypoallergenic: These sunscreens don’t have chemicals like oxybenzone, benzophenones, cinnamates, and dibenzoylmethanes, which can cause rash in people with sensitive skin
  • Reef-Friendly/Reef-Safe: Sunscreens specially formulated to not be hazardous to marine environments. Ingredients that are not friendly to coral reefs include oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, 4-methylbenzylidene camphor, PABA, parabens, triclosan, nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (look for sunscreens that explicitly say “micro-sized” or “non-nano”) and any form of microplastic, such as exfoliating beads or glitter
  • SPF: Sun Protection Factor, the measurement of how well a sunscreen protects against UVB rays (low protection: SPF 6-14; medium protection: SPF 15-29; high protection: SPF 30-49; very high protection: SPF 50+)
  • Titanium Dioxide: A naturally occurring oxide of titanium used in mineral sunscreens because of its ability to reflect and scatter UV rays away from the skin
  • UVA: Longer ultraviolet rays that cause skin aging (especially wrinkles) and skin cancer
  • UVB: Shorter ultraviolet rays that provide Vitamin D but also cause skin burning and skin cancer
  • Waterproof: Sorry, but there’s no such thing as actual waterproof sunscreen. All sunscreen washes off or loses its SPF in water after up to 80 minutes
  • Water Resistant: Sunscreen that retains its SPF after being submerged in water (or sweat) for up to 80 minutes (the closest you’ll find to “waterproof” sunscreen)
  • Zinc Oxide: A powdery mineral that sits on top of the skin and reflects and scatters UV rays. It also soothes irritated skin, and you can often find it in diaper rash creams, makeup, foot powders and burn medications

Taking all this information into account (we know, it’s a lot), here are some of our favorite sunscreens for babies. You may find that one of these popular picks works great for you and your family too!

Best Overall Sunscreen for Babies

Why We Love It

It’s a minor miracle when a zinc oxide sunscreen goes on smooth and doesn’t feel greasy. That’s why we’re head over heels for Thinkbaby’s formula. Just because it’s easy to apply doesn’t mean it’s skimpy on sun protection—it’s got SFP 50+, so it’s considered very high protection, and it’s packed with 20% zinc oxide and offers up to 80 minutes of water resistance. Like most mineral sunscreens, this one leaves a slight white cast, but if you make the effort to really rub it in well, you can minimize the whiteness a fair amount.

Keep in Mind

Most kids and parents like the tropical papaya smell of the lotion. But if fragrance drives you nuts, this isn’t the sunscreen for you.

Color-Changing Protection

Why We Love It

It’s easy to understand that you’re at risk of sun damage when in direct sunlight, but what if it’s overcast? To help you detect when sunscreen is necessary for your little one, Blue Lizard tubes feature a special cap that changes from clear to bright pink when exposed to harmful UV rays (even if it’s cloudy outside). This mineral sunscreen is water resistant up to 80 minutes, and it’s considered reef-friendly, too!

Keep in Mind

Blue Lizard also makes a popular “kids” version that is a combination mineral-and-chemical sunscreen, featuring titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and octisalate, which can irritate sensitive skin. So make sure you’re looking closely at the bottle so you grab the correct sunscreen for your baby.

Best Sunscreen for Darker Skin

Why We Love It

If your little one is rockin’ lots of melanin, you’re probably all too familiar with the white residue that mineral formulas can create on your skin. That’s because mineral sunscreens are typically made with zinc oxide, which is normally white. But here’s a sunscreen that’s made with clear zinc oxide, meaning it goes on clear and stays clear, no matter how dark your kiddo’s skin is! This new formula from Evereden features SheerTech Zinc, the sheerest and smoothest form of mineral sun protection out there. It also features safflower oil, so it glides on like a lotion and provides all-day moisture for dry or sensitive skin.

Keep in Mind

The price is on the higher end of sunscreen, and it’s only water resistant for up to 40 minutes.

Best Scented Sunscreen

Why We Love It

Most mineral sunscreens are going to smell mostly like nothing and somewhat like minerals. If you’re looking for a moment of delight, this sunscreen has a tangerine-and-vanilla scent that smells like creamsicles! It also includes a blend of sunflower oil, beeswax and vitamin E, so it’s super moisturizing. And as an added bonus, it’s made with clear zinc, so it goes on without a white residue.

Keep in Mind

If you or your little one is sensitive to scents, it’s best to go with an unscented sunscreen instead.

Best Stick Sunscreen

Why We Love It

While lotion sunscreens are best for fully covering baby’s skin, sometimes a stick sunscreen can come in handy. Swipe it over tops of tiny ears, onto lips or across little noses for an easy application. Most sunscreen sticks are notoriously solid and a little hard, requiring a little elbow grease to get them to spread. But not this one! They call this a “butter stick” for a reason—it’s creamy, glides on super smooth and is easy to spread out on skin, making this a good quick-application option for the whole family.

Keep in Mind

Like other sunscreen sticks, this is perfect to use on baby’s (and your) face and neck, but it should be paired with a lotion or spray to cover arms, legs and anywhere else.

Best Spray Sunscreen

Why We Love It

If you think all spray sunscreens are created equal, think again. First off, this spray is a mineral sunscreen, so no chemicals. And while most sprays are aerosol (and are an assault on the lungs if you’re not careful), this spray is more like a squirt bottle. The sunscreen comes out like a watery lotion rather than a fine mist, so you don’t have to worry about holding your breath while spraying. It’s also easier to rub in than most mineral sunscreens, leaving less of a white cast.

Keep in Mind

Because of the way the bottle sprays, you may overshoot and get sunscreen where you don’t intend to. And make sure to double-check that you haven’t missed any spots on baby’s skin!

Babylist Staff

Babylist editors and writers are parents themselves and have years of experience writing and researching, coming from media outlets like Motherly, the SF Chronicle, the New York Times and the Daily Beast, and the fields of early childhood education and publishing. We research and test hundreds of products, survey real Babylist parents and consult reviews in order to recommend the best products and gear for your growing family.

This information is provided for educational and entertainment purposes only. We do not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here. Babylist may earn compensation from affiliate links in this content. Learn more about how we write Babylist content and review products, as well as the Babylist Health Advisory Board.