How To Choose The Right Sunscreen For Your Toddler

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It’s recommended that babies start wearing sunscreen as young as 6 months old. Before then, they shouldn’t be in direct sunlight whatsoever. Getting into the habit of wearing sunscreen regularly whenever exposed to sunlight is an essential skill. It can protect your skin in the long term and reduce the risk of skin irritations or complications such as cancer.

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With so many sunscreens on the market, it can be overwhelming trying to find the best one for your child. But not every sunscreen is made equally. Even though it may advertise to be toddler-friendly, some kids’ sunscreens have harsh chemicals or harmful application methods that reduce their efficacy.

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If you’re shopping for sunscreen for your toddler, keep the following factors in mind, which will help you narrow down the type and brand, so you can find the right option for your family.

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Look For Proper Protection

The most important thing when looking for sunscreen is ensuring it provides proper protection from the sun. Kid’s Health explains that for babies and toddlers, sunscreen should have an SPF of 30 or higher. 15-30 SPF is only suitable if you’re in indirect sunlight for a short period. Longer exposure requires a higher SPF value.

Additionally, you need to ensure the sunscreen is broad-spectrum. This means it shields against both UVA and UVB rays for ultimate protection.

Weigh The Benefits Of Each Type

There are a variety of different types of children’s sunscreens on the market, so it’s important to weigh their pros and cons when deciding which is best.

In general, sunscreens are divided into two broad categories – mineral and chemical sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens sit on the top of the skin and provide a barrier that the sun’s rays cannot penetrate. They’re harder to rub in and come off with sweat or water, but they work as soon as applied.

Conversely, chemical sunscreens act like a sponge by converting the sun’s rays into heat and releasing it from the skin. This type of sunscreen is absorbed into the top layer of the skin. This makes it easier to rub in and harder to wash off, though it can take up to 20 minutes for it to start working.


While chemical sunscreens may be quicker and easier to apply to children, they’re often not the recommended option. Mineral sunscreens are preferable because they often use gentler ingredients, Today’s Parent explains. The younger the child, the more sensitive their skin will be, so choosing a gentle sunscreen option is important when shopping for babies and toddlers.

Avoid Harsh Ingredients

Even once you’ve decided on a type of sunscreen, it’s still important to read a brand’s label before deciding to try it on your child. While most children’s sunscreens are made with gentler ingredients than regular formulas, they could still potentially include harsh ingredients that will irritate your child’s skin.

Everyday Health recommends that folks with sensitive skin avoid sunscreen with ingredients like:

  • Alcohol
  • Synthetic fragrances
  • Chemicals (including oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate)

There are some specialty sunscreens made for children with sensitive skin. These are likely to be gentler on your toddler, especially if they have a history of skin irritations, like eczema.

If you’re searching for a mineral-based sunscreen, Environmental Working Group advises finding one with an active ingredient like zinc oxide or titanium oxide. If you want a non-mineral sunscreen, the active ingredient should be Avobenzone (3 percent).

Different Applications Have Pros & Cons

It’s not just about what type of sunscreen is the best for your toddler’s skin. The method of application is also an important factor to consider, as it influences how easy it is to put sunscreen on your toddler, depending on the body part. Generally, sunscreen is sold as creams, gels, sticks, and sprays.

Kid’s Health explains that:

  • Gel sunscreens are better for areas with hair (like the scalp)
  • Stick sunscreens are good for the face and eye area
  • Cream sunscreens are better for dry skin areas, like arms and legs

Avoid Spray Sunscreens

The one sunscreen form that isn’t recommended is sprays. Choosing a sunscreen that you can spray directly onto your toddler may seem like a time-saving idea. It’s quicker and there will be less hassle to rub it in. But it’s better to opt for a traditional lotion sunscreen for several reasons.

Children’s explains that spray sunscreens put your child at risk of breathing in the chemicals, which isn’t good for their long-term health. Additionally, since many sunscreen sprays are transparent, it can be hard to see where you’ve applied sunscreen. They risk leaving a patch of unprotected skin.


Please speak to your child’s doctor for more information on choosing the best sunscreen.

Sources: Children’s, Today’s Parent, Kid’s Health, Everyday Health, Environmental Working Group,

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