When I started researching this list of the best sunscreens for kids, I couldn’t believe how many of the bottles in my own house contain harmful ingredients (and lack the good ones). It used to be that we picked the first tube we saw at the pharmacy, but it turns out many well-known brands are actually some of the worst choices out there. So, what should you look for in a sunscreen or sunblock? “I recommend choosing a ‘physical’ or ‘chemical-free’ sunscreen made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide,” says Jody Levine, MD, Director of Dermatology at Plastic Surgery and Dermatology of NYC, PLLC. “Both of these ingredients form a barrier against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays as they sit on top of the skin.” In addition to choosing a mineral sunscreen, the Environmental Working Group warns against choosing spray sunscreens (it’s easy to miss a spot), sunscreens with SPFs over 50+ (falsely suggest you can stay in the sun longer), and sunscreens containing oxybenzone, a chemical which (some studies suggests) may cause allergies and/or health disorders.
And there’s more to sunblock than just knowing which one to buy. There’s also knowing when and how to apply sunblock. “If you are using a chemical sunscreen, it’s best to wait 20 to 30 minutes after applying before going outside so the UV filters have time to soak into your skin and form a protective layer,” says Dr. Levine. “However, sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide actives (‘physical sunscreens’) are effective as soon as you put them on.” As for how often, Dr. Levine suggests re-applying every two hours — or even sooner if you sweat a lot, exercise vigorously, or go swimming.
Whether you choose a chemical or physical sunscreen for your family, make sure it is made with kids’ sensitive skin in mind. Check to see if it contains at least SPF 30 and that it is labeled as “broad spectrum.” Look for something that is sweat and water resistant (because with kids, you never know!), and don’t be put off by the product’s “thick” or “pasty” quality — that’s the non-nano zinc and/or titanium (ie, what makes it good). I know, it’s a lot to remember, but choosing the right sunblock for your kids is vital. “Most of our lifetime sun exposure occurs before we turn 18 years old,” adds Dr. Levine. “Repeated short-term damage such as a sun burn can lead to skin cancer.”
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