The Best Sunscreens for Kids to Protect Their Precious Skin

Babyganics Sunscreen Lotion is free from harmful ingredients and goes on easily

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While kids should always be encouraged to go outside and play, the sun's harmful rays can pose a risk to their delicate skin, so sunscreen is essential. Any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen at all, but according to Marisa K. Garshick, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Assistant Professor at Cornell University, they're not all the same.

Reviewed & Approved

Our top pick is Babyganics Sunscreen Lotion because we can rely on its active ingredients titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and octisalate for broad-spectrum, water-resistant protection, and its smooth texture makes it easy to apply. For an option that uses only zinc oxide, we like Thinkbaby Sunscreen.

There are a lot of sunblocks and sunscreens for kids out there, so you'll want to read the ingredients on the label to ensure it's safe for your kiddo's skin. "The ingredients recognized and generally recommended as safe and effective include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide," Dr. Garshick explains. We carefully considered ingredients, application, age recommendations, and value when reviewing products. 

To save you from having to read through every ingredient list yourself, we've rounded up the best sunscreen options available.

Best Overall: Babyganics Sunscreen Lotion

4.8
Babyganics Sunscreen Lotion

Source: Babyganics

Pros
  • Uses both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide

  • Great for sensitive skin

  • Rubs in well

Cons
  • Expires quicker than similar brands

We named Babyganics Sunscreen Lotion our top pick because it's a mineral and chemical sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum sun protection. It's free of parabens, phthalates, and fragrance, and it's water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. 

This sunscreen is also safe for sensitive skin and won't irritate the eyes, and many of the inactive ingredients used are certified organic. Even though it's a lotion, it goes on smooth and rubs in well, so even the squirmiest kids are well protected without a buildup of white residue.

SPF: 50+ | Active Ingredients: Octisalate, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide | Application Type: Lotion

Best for Babies: Thinkbaby Baby Sunscreen Natural Sunblock

Thinkbaby Baby Sunscreen Natural Sunblock

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Tear-free and not oily

  • Broad-spectrum UVA/UVB

  • Free of harmful chemicals

Cons
  • On the pricier end

Babies have the most delicate skin of all, so it's important to ensure the sunscreen you choose for them won't cause an irritation while still being effective. We really like Thinkbaby sunscreen because it's made with zinc oxide and is free from harmful chemicals. It's an SPF 50+ sunscreen and offers UVA/UVB broad-spectrum protection in a tear-free formula that isn't oily and goes on easily. Thinkbaby will protect the skin for up to two hours once it's dry, and it is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

While this sunscreen is marketed for babies, it should not be used on infants under 6 months old. "Babies under 6 months old should avoid direct sun and wear sun-protective clothing" such as hats and rash guards, Marisa K. Garshick, MD, FAAD notes.

SPF: 50+ | Active Ingredient: Zinc oxide | Application Type: Lotion

What Experts Say

"Especially for young children, it is best to stick with mineral blockers, which contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These work by reflecting UV rays off the skin." — Marisa K. Garshick, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Assistant Professor at Cornell University

Best Spray: Babyganics Sunscreen Spray

Babyganics Sunscreen Spray

Source: Babyganics

Pros
  • Pump spray bottle

  • Safe ingredients, some organic

Cons
  • Thinner formula

For the wiggliest of kids, we love the Babyganics sunscreen spray because it's a little easier to apply than lotion. An added perk about this spray is that it comes in a safer classic pump bottle rather than an aerosol, which Dr. Garshick says "may be flammable and should not be inhaled." Like other sunscreens on our list, zinc oxide is one of the active ingredients, as well as Babyganics' seed oil blend, which includes oils from tomato, cranberry, raspberry, black cumin, and sunflower seeds.

With SPF 50+ broad-spectrum protection, this sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Even though it comes in a spray bottle, this is still a lotion spray, so you'll need to thoroughly rub it into your child's skin. Dr. Garshick reminds caregivers to apply a sufficient amount since the formula is thinner in order to work as a spray.

SPF: 50+ | Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide, octocrylene, octisalate | Application Type: Spray

Best Lotion: Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Oxide Kids Mineral Sunscreen

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Oxide Kids Mineral Sunscreen

Source: Neutrogena

Pros
  • Gentle formula for all skin types

  • Won't irritate kids' eyes

Cons
  • Costly

When it comes to skin products, Neutrogena has been in the market for a long time and offers some of the best options, including the Sheer Zinc Oxide Mineral Sunscreen for kids. It offers broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection for up to two hours when the skin is dry (80 minutes when the skin is wet) and is free of fragrance, dyes, oils, and chemicals, so it is safe for sensitive skin. It can be applied to the face and body and goes on smooth, though it still needs to be rubbed in a bit to avoid leftover white residue.

SPF: 50+ | Active Ingredient: Zinc oxide | Application Type: Lotion

Best Stick/Roll-On: Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Stick

Sun Bum Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Stick

Courtesy of Sun Bum

Pros
  • Roll-on stick

  • Non-oily formula

Cons
  • Thick formula application may require a bit of pressure

For kids who'd rather forfeit going outside altogether rather than applying sunscreen, Dr. Garshick says sunscreen sticks are a good option since they are easier to slather on than lotion (just make sure you apply enough). We love the Baby Bum Sunscreen Stick, a fragrance-free, plant-based formula for any skin type, including super sensitive.

The SPF 50+ sunscreen offers UVA/UVB broad-spectrum protection as well as hydration, thanks to the coconut oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter in the formula, without being oily. Simply roll the sunscreen on using the stick and rest easy knowing your little one's skin is safe for up to two hours.

SPF: 50+ | Active Ingredient: Zinc oxide | Application Type: Roll-on stick

Best Waterproof: Coppertone WaterBabies Sunscreen

Coppertone WaterBabies Sunscreen

Source: Coppertone

Pros
  • Aloe and vitamin E, which is gentle and moisturizing

  • Does not leave white residue

Cons
  • Scent may irritate very sensitive skin

Coppertone WaterBabies has been a go-to waterproof sunscreen for decades, and we still love it. It is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and also offers broad-spectrum protection whether your kiddo is splashing in the pool or breaking a sweat while running around the playground. The sunscreen's mild and hypoallergenic formula uses zinc oxide as well as vitamin E and aloe to help keep the skin soothed and moisturized, making it a safe option for all skin types.

Whether you use this sunscreen or another brand, Dr. Garshick notes, "It is important to check the label to see if it is water-resistant sunscreen and for how long, which indicates when to reapply if swimming or sweating." If your child gets wet, you'll usually have to reapply sooner than when their skin is dry.

SPF: 50+ | Active Ingredients: Zinc oxide, vitamin E | Application Type: Lotion

Best Reef Safe: Badger Baby Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30

Badger Baby Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30

Courtesy of Amazon

Pros
  • Made from 98 percent organic ingredients

  • Free of chemicals that are harmful to coral

Cons
  • Needs to be reapplied quicker than most other brands

If your kids will be doing a lot of ocean swimming, we recommend Badger Baby Sunscreen because it's a reef-safe formula. Made with 98 percent organic ingredients, this hypoallergenic sunscreen is good for all skin types. Plus, it's free from ingredients like oxybenzone and nano-zinc oxide that have been shown to harm coral reefs.

In addition to zinc oxide, this sunscreen uses chamomile, beeswax, vitamin E, and other ingredients that will both protect and hydrate your child's skin. This sunscreen is SPF 30, and it offers broad-spectrum protection for up to two hours when the skin is dry and up to 40 minutes when swimming or sweating.

SPF: 30 | Active Ingredient: Non-nano uncoated zinc oxide | Application Type: Lotion

Best for Sensitive Skin: Aveeno Kids Continuous Protection

Aveeno Kids Continuous Protection

Source: Aveeno

Pros
  • Formula includes oats to nourish sensitive skin

  • Free of oxybenzone and octinoxate

Cons
  • Must be rubbed in thoroughly

"For those with sensitive skin, it's best to avoid chemical filters such as oxybenzone or octinoxate," says Dr. Garshick. That's why we recommend products like the Aveeno Kids Continuous Protection sunscreen. Not only is it free of these ingredients, but the formula also contains oats to help soothe sensitive skin.

The broad-spectrum lotion is SPF 50, and it is water and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes. It's also tear-free, hypoallergenic, and does not leave the skin feeling greasy or oily after application. That being said, it is a rather thick formula that needs to be rubbed in well; otherwise, it will leave a white residue behind.

SPF: 50 | Active Ingredient: Zinc oxide | Application Type: Lotion

Best Unscented: Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen

Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen
Pros
  • Free of fragrance, parabens, and harmful chemicals

  • Reef-safe

Cons
  • Leaves a white cast

Finding an unscented kids sunscreen can be difficult, and delicate skin can get irritated with scented formulas. We like Blue Lizard Mineral Sunscreen because it's free of fragrance as well as other harmful chemicals.

The SPF 50 lotion provides broad-spectrum protection, is reef-safe, and comes in a "smart bottle" that changes colors in dangerous UV light. This formula is water- and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes and is gentle on all skin types. However, it is very thick and will more than likely leave a white cast (without vigorous rubbing).

SPF: 50 | Active Ingredients: Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide | Application Type: Lotion

Best Combo Pack: Babyganics Outdoor Essentials Sunscreen & Insect Repellant

Babyganics Outdoor Essentials Sunscreen & Insect Repellant

Source: Babyganics

Pros
  • You get two products in one package

  • Bug spray is made from 100 percent natural essential oils and free of harmful chemicals

Cons
  • Contains chemical sunscreen filters that some try to avoid

In addition to the Babyganics spray-on sunscreen, this set also comes with a bottle of their bug spray, which is great for families at a lake, camping, or doing anything else outdoors where there are also bugs. Since these two products come in one package, they work well together without weakening each other's formulas.

The broad-spectrum sunscreen is SPF 50 and comes in a pump spray bottle. Its active ingredients include both chemical and mineral sunscreens, though it is free of oxybenzone and octinoxate. The insect repellant is made with essential oils and is free of DEET, parabens, artificial fragrances, sulfates, and dyes. Both products' formulas won't leave the skin feeling greasy and are hypoallergenic.

SPF: 50+ | Active Ingredients: Zinc oxide, octocrylene, octisalate | Application Type: Spray

Best Mineral: Pipette Mineral Sunscreen

Pipette Mineral Sunscreen

Source: Pipette

Pros
  • Baby-friendly formula (6 months+)

  • Goes on easily and smoothly, thanks to sugarcane-derived squalane

Cons
  • It is not sweat- or water-resistant

"It is recommended to use mineral sunscreens, which are physical blockers containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, as these tend to be less likely to cause sensitivity or irritation," Dr. Garshick says. Pipette Mineral Sunscreen uses 100 percent mineral, non-nano zinc oxide, offering broad-spectrum protection that can be applied anywhere on the body.

While it is thick, the formula contains sugarcane-derived squalane to help it rub in easily without leaving a greasy or sticky residue behind. This sunscreen is also reef-safe and is great for sensitive skin because it's free of fragrances and harsh chemicals and packed with soothing ingredients like antioxidant bisabolol. While it is not water- or sweat-resistant, it does offer dry skin up to two hours of protection.

SPF: 50 | Active Ingredient: Zinc oxide | Application Type: Lotion

Final Verdict

Marisa K. Garshick, MD, FAAD, points out that "the best sunscreen is one you will use," so any of these options will work well if you apply it. However, we particularly love the Babyganics Sunscreen Lotion because it's made with mineral sunscreens titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as well as chemical sunscreen octisalate for broad-spectrum protection that's water-resistant and safe for sensitive skin. For an all-mineral alternative, try Thinkbaby Sunscreen.

How We Rated the Best Sunscreens for Kids

4.8 to 5 stars: These are the best sunscreens for kids we reviewed. We recommend them without reservation.

4.5 to 4.7 stars: These best sunscreens for kids are excellent—they might have minor flaws, but we still recommend them.

4.0 to 4.5 stars: We think these are great best sunscreens for kids, but others are better.

3.5 to 3.9 stars: These best sunscreens for kids are just average.

3.4 and below: We don't recommend best sunscreens for kids with this rating; you won't find any on our list.

How We Selected

We chose the best sunscreens for kids by first consulting with Marisa K. Garshick, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and a Clinical Assistant Professor at Cornell University, to learn the best and most effective ingredients to look for. From there, we researched dozens of different sunscreens and narrowed down our picks based on specific purposes (like sensitive skin or reef-safe), reviews, whether or not they were waterproof, the maximum length of time between applications, and application type.

What to Look for in a Sunscreen for Kids

SPF

Sun protection factor (SPF) can range depending on the sunscreen and the form it takes, and it's recommended to go for a minimum SPF of 15 to 30. While it may seem like a higher SPF offers more protection, the Environmental Working Group cautions against choosing an SPF over 50.

Having done independent testing, EWG found that "actual SPF values are significantly lower than what is on the label." And if you're using a high SPF, it shouldn't be an incentive to spend as long as possible in the sun or an excuse to skip reapplying.

Chemical Sunscreen vs. Mineral Sunscreen

Chemical and mineral sunscreens are differentiated by how they interact with the sun. Chemical sunscreens work to absorb the sun's rays, while mineral (also known as physical) sunscreens work to block the sun's rays.

According to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, mineral sunscreens are recommended for children and those with sensitive skin. Meanwhile, chemical sunscreens are best suited for older children and those without skin conditions.

"While all sunscreens are effective for all skin colors, some people with darker skin prefer an option that won't leave a white cast," Dr. Garshick says. "Historically, chemical sunscreens have been able to rub in more easily, though more mineral formulations have been developed that are tinted and less likely to leave a cast behind. In general, it comes down to personal preference and making sure you find a sunscreen you like to apply."

Ingredients

According to EWG's 15th Annual Guide to Sunscreens, the two sunscreen ingredients that are recognized as safe are:

  • Titanium dioxide
  • Zinc oxide

A recent study found that chemical sunscreen ingredients avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate get absorbed into the bloodstream after use at higher levels than were previously thought. The American Academy of Dermatology and the FDA did not conclude that this was an immediate cause for alarm, however.

"While these active ingredients were absorbed into the bloodstream at levels exceeding the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's threshold for waiving additional safety tests, more research is needed to determine if the absorption has any effects on a person's health," reads a 2020 statement from the AAD. "Most importantly, the study authors and the FDA conclude that consumers should continue to use sunscreen to protect themselves from the sun."

Still, the EWG warns that the following ingredients haven't yet been thoroughly studied enough:

  • Avobenzone
  • Homosalate
  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Oxybenzone
  • Cinoxate
  • Dioxybenzone
  • Ensulizole
  • Meradimate
  • Padimate
  • Sulisobenzone

The two ingredients that are deemed unsafe to use are:

  • PABA
  • Trolamine salicylate

Like the AAD, Dr. Garshick stopped short of cautioning against the use of chemical sunscreens, but she did say they are not recommended for sensitive skin.

Broad Spectrum UVA and UVB Protection

Sunlight emits two types of ultraviolet light, UVA and UVB. Unprotected exposure to UVB light can cause sunburns, while exposure to UVA light leads to skin aging, with both having the potential to lead to skin cancer.

Broad-spectrum sunscreen implies protection from both types of UV light, but the EWG questions their UVA coverage. Arguing that SPF values are more so tied to UVB rays and sunburn protection, the EWG believes the FDA's guidelines for broad-spectrum sunscreens are too minimal. 

Despite these claims, ways to decrease the risk of UVA ray exposure include picking ingredients like avobenzone and zinc oxide, the "two best UVA filters in American sunscreens." The EWG also lists titanium dioxide as a moderately effective ingredient for UVA ray protection. Other best practices include effectively applying sunscreen, minimizing time in the sun, and wearing UPF clothing and accessories.

Water-Resistant

Water-resistant sunscreens aren't just limited to beach or pool play. Your child will likely be sweating when outside in the heat, which is when a water-resistant formula offers better protection than a standard type.

Keep in mind that there isn't a truly "waterproof" sunscreen, according to the FDA, only water-resistant. When spending time in and out of the water, your kiddos should reapply sunscreen more frequently, especially after exiting the water, and make sure to follow the product's label-specific directions.

Type of Application

Lotion: Though lotions can be tedious, they offer easy absorption and peace of mind in ensuring no spot is missed. This form is the easiest to effectively apply.

Spray: While spray sunscreen appears like the most convenient form, especially if the little ones are antsy to start playing outside, they're not as thorough as other forms and tend to be applied ineffectively. Contrary to popular belief, sprays still need to be rubbed into the skin, especially as the initial application may miss some areas. And no matter the type, the FDA recommends against applying spray sunscreen to the face due to the likelihood of breathing in fumes.

Stick: Aside from being lightweight and space-friendly, stick sunscreens are an ideal option for kids who are learning to apply sunscreen independently. Its swipe-on form is perfectly sized for delicate areas like the face and the ears, so there's no overdoing application. However, multiple layers need to be swiped on for the ultimate coverage.

Gel: In the case of thin or very short hair, if the thought of running a lotion sunscreen over your head or your child's doesn’t seem appealing, gel-based sunscreens are a thinner alternative in providing coverage to your scalp.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What else should you do to protect kids from the sun?

    It's best to avoid sun exposure when UV rays are at their strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Aside from applying sunscreen, there are other preventative steps your kiddo can take when out in the sun, from clothing to accessories. 

    • Wear Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) clothing, which feature a higher thread count to block the sun's rays. Aim for a UPF of 15 or 50+.
    • Sport a wide-brimmed hat that can provide coverage for your face and neck.
    • Wear sunglasses that block or filter UVA and UVB rays.
    • Don't forget the lips! Lip balm with a minimum SPF of 15 should be a pocket essential.
    • Avoid certain medications, like some acne treatments, decongestants, and antibiotics, which may increase the likelihood of a sunburn.
    • If obtaining vitamin D is the goal, alternatives include supplements and vitamin D-rich foods.
  • Do those with deeply pigmented skin need sunscreen?

    It's a common misconception that those with darker skin and high melanin levels don't need sunscreen, due to a lack of awareness, and the higher prevalence of skin cancer in the fairer-skinned communities.

    In actuality, African Americans experience more melanoma deaths than any other ethnic group. There are more difficulties in detecting skin cancer in those with dark skin, resulting in a higher likelihood that they'll receive a late-stage prognosis.

    The bottom line is that sunscreen should always be worn no matter one's skin tone. There is no sun immunity in any community, and skin cancer is preventable.

  • How is sunscreen for kids different than sunscreen for adults?

    Some sunscreens have more gentle formulas than others, and despite the variety of kids' brands, sunscreens for adults work well for kids and vice versa. It boils down to your kiddo's skin sensitivities, or lack thereof, a mineral or chemical form, the SPF, and your preferred type.

  • How often should you apply sunscreen on a child?

    Nemours Children's Health advises applying sunscreen in advance of outdoor activities, ranging from 20 or 30 minutes beforehand. 

    Even if a sunscreen is labeled as "all-day," it should be reapplied every two hours or however frequent according to the label's instructions. If your little one is going in and out of the pool or the beach, water-resistant sunscreen should be reapplied more frequently—especially after exiting the water. 

    A rule of thumb is to apply 1 ounce, the amount that would fill a shot glass all over the body.

Why Trust Verywell Family 

Ashley Ziegler is a full-time parenting writer and a mom to a 2.5-year-old and a 5-year-old. She has personal experience in shopping for safe, effective kids sunscreen and has tried several of the brands on this list and ranks the Babyganics Sunscreen Lotion as her favorite.

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11 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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