image of sunscreens laying on beach towel
Camping First Aid and Safety

How to Choose Sunscreen for Kids

image of sunscreens laying on beach towel

If you’re like us, you spend a LOT of time outside during the summer. Which means you probably purchase enough sunscreen to slather up a small army every spring. Every time I go to Target to re-stock I’m always shocked by the number of options they have. Have you ever stood in front of the display and wondered ‘What is the best sunscreen for kids?’ Look no further. We’re going to chat all about how to choose sunscreen for kids.

Why Sunscreen is Important

The sun produces two types of rays: UVA and UVB. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and cause premature aging, wrinkles, and an increased chance of developing skin cancer. UVB rays are more intense ultraviolet rays that damage the outer layer of skin causing redness, sunburn, and an increased risk for skin cancer.

Sunscreen acts as a barrier to these harmful rays.

Do children need sunscreen?

YES! Children need sunscreen; in fact, their susceptible skin needs it the most. Plus, starting a habit of wearing sunscreen NOW will help decrease their chances of developing skin cancer later in life.

When should kids wear sunscreen?

Kids need to wear sunscreen anytime they’re outside for an extended period. Are you going out to the backyard to play for 20 minutes? Sunscreen. Headed for an afternoon at the park? Sunscreen. Spending the day at an amusement park? Definitely sunscreen.

I know what a hassle it is to apply sunscreen to a squirming toddler or preschooler who refuses to listen. It’s not fun. But dealing with a child that gets a sunburn- or worse, sun poisoning- is so much worse. So just put the sunscreen on the kid. Thank me later.

Looking at sunscreen displays is overwhelming. There are too many choices! Learn sunscreen tips, what to look for, and how to choose sunscreen for kids.

Sunscreen vs. Sunblock

You’ve probably heard sunscreen and sunblock used interchangeably, but they’re two different types of sun protection. They work in very different ways. Let’s check out what’s different!

How Sunscreen Works

Sunscreen acts like a sponge by absorbing into the skin where it converts the sun’s rays into a less damaging form of radiation. It also needs to be applied 20 minutes before heading outdoors to be effective. You’ll see a list of active ingredients with really long chemical names, avobenzone or oxybenzone are two common ones.

How Sunblock Works

On the other hand, sunblock works by acting as a shield on top of the skin that blocks and deflects the sun’s rays. Sunblock is effective immediately once applied- no waiting! Sometimes you’ll see packaging say mineral sunscreen or physical sunscreen, both of those mean sunblock. The active ingredients are always zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.

Which is better? Sunscreen or Sunblock?

Sunblock. Hands down. It takes a little more effort to rub into your child’s skin, but it is worth it. The minerals present in sunblock are often less irritating for sensitive skin, so that’s a bonus!

What about SPF?

Sun protection factor, or SPF, is the theoretical amount of time a sunscreen or sunblock can protect the skin from turning red. It’s important to note that this number assumes that you’re reapplying regularly- more on that in a minute. SPF is based on the number of UVB rays that the sunscreen can effectively block.

SPF x minutes before skin normally burns= safe sun time

Is SPF 30 enough for kids?

Short answer, yes.

Long answer, SPF 15 blocks 94% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays, and SPF 45 blocks 98% of UVB rays. Anything over 50 does not provide MORE sun protection, so the FDA rules regulate claims regarding SPF (max is 50).

How often should you reapply sunscreen on a child?

At a minimum, sunblock needs reapplied every 2 hours. But if your child is particularly sweaty, or you’ve been swimming, you may want to reapply more often. Just to be safe.

Alright, that was a lot of information. So, here’s what you need to keep in mind when it comes down to how to choose sunscreen for kids.

How to Choose Sunscreen for Kids

  1. Pick a sunblock- anything with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as an ingredient
  2. Choose sunscreen with at least SPF 30

That’s it.

Best Sunscreen for Kids

These are my top 4 favorite sunblocks for kids (or anyone, really). All of them can be found at a local drugstore- or Target. But we usually get them on Amazon because it’s a little cheaper.

  1. Blue Lizard
  2. Badger (Badger Active is clear zinc, and Badger Kids is lightly scented- my girls love the scent)
  3. Bare Republic (spray or lotion)
  4. Think Baby

If none of those are available, then these are solid back up picks:

  1. Babyganics
  2. Sun Bum Clear Zinc Oxide
  3. Target Up and Up Mineral Sunscreen

What are you waiting for? Grab your sunscreen and get ready to head outdoors!


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Until Next time! ChrissieLooking at sunscreen displays is overwhelming. There are too many choices! Learn sunscreen tips, what to look for, and how to choose sunscreen for kids.

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