Children need to wear sunscreen, but they don’t necessarily have to wear a kid’s sunscreen. Turns out, sunscreens marketed as “kid” formulas are not safer or regulated any differently than other sunscreens. When shopping for sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends looking for these words on the front label:
- Broad spectrum. This means the sunscreen protects the skin from the sun’s ultraviolet UVA and UVB rays, both of which can cause cancer.
- SPF 30 (or higher). SPF stands for “sun protection factor.” SPF 30 means the sunscreen blocks 97 percent of the sun’s rays. Higher SPFs block slightly more, but no sunscreen can block 100 percent.
- Water resistant or very water resistant. This means the sunscreen will provide protection when kids are in and out of the water for the number of minutes indicated on the bottle. This this does not mean the product is waterproof—no sunscreen is waterproof (even if it says so on the label).
Mineral or chemical?
Sunscreen formulas tend to fall into two categories: mineral or chemical.
Mineral sunscreens are those that contain zinc oxide or titanium oxide as the active ingredient. These sunscreens sit on top of the skin and deflect the sun’s rays. Mineral sunscreens may appear like a white film on your child’s skin even after you rub them in.
Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays and usually do not leave any visible film after applying. Both formulas work equally well, however, mineral sunscreen may be less irritating to a child’s sensitive skin—especially on areas like the nose, cheeks, tops of the ears and shoulders.
Beware of “natural’’ sunscreens, which Consumer Reports found consistently performed less effectively than chemical and mineral formulas.
Lotion or spray?
While it may be more convenient when dealing with squirmy little ones, it’s best to avoid spray sunscreens. It’s hard to judge just how much is actually getting onto the skin, and it’s easy to miss a spot. Plus, sprays are easier to breathe in and can irritate little lungs.
If you do choose a spray, don’t spray it around the face or mouth. Instead, spray it into your hands, and then apply it to facial areas. Sprays are also flammable, so watch out around open flames, like a grill.
A few more tips:
- Don’t use sunscreens with PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid), a commonly used ingredient because of its ability to help absorb the sun’s UV rays. PABA can cause allergic reactions and other health problems.
- Also, avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone (another common sunscreen ingredient that aids UV coverage) because of concerns about its effect on hormonal properties.
- If your teen wants to use a self-tanning lotion, make sure to get one that also has UV protection. Many have little or none at all. (Tanning, in general, is discouraged by health professionals. It has been shown to increase skin cancer risk and is not recommended).