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Summer's Here & the Best Sunscreen for Kids Is so Important

Theresa Edwards

by

Shark Wrestler

Theresa Edwards is a freelance writer and professional whiner. She lives in Dallas, Texas with her family where she enjoys reading, roller derby, and complaining about the heat.

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Keep them covered

fStop Images - Sven Hagolani
#1/31:

Keep them covered

While it may be true that any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen, it's also a fact that not all sunblock is created equal. Every year, the Environemtnal Working Group digs up all the details on commercial sunscreens for kids and gives them a rating based on safety. They take into consideration the actual effectiveness and stability of each sunscreen, as well as the amount of harmful chemcals used in the product as well.

The nonprofit watchdog researches, scrutinizes and tests hundreds of sun protection offerings with one goal: To tell consumers which sunscreens belong on children's skin and which ones are better left on the shelf.

Here are their findings reported on the 2016 list. Let's start with the worst. 

Originally published May 2016. Updated June 2017.

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Worst: Coppertone Kids Continuous Spray, SPF 70

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Worst: Coppertone Kids Continuous Spray, SPF 70

Spray-on sunscreens (like this one from Coppertone) make up a good portion of the EWG's bad list because of the use of dangerous chemical propellants. (Amazon, $23)

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Worst: Coppertone Kids Wacky Foam

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Worst: Coppertone Kids Wacky Foam

Sprays seem like a good idea, since they offer speed and coverage on wiggly kids who might not otherwise want to sit still for an application. The problem is that they pose an inhalation risk and make it easy to miss certain areas. Spray-on sunscreens tend to trick you into thinking you've covered every inch of skin, but lotions offer a better way to gauge that. (Amazon, $30) 

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Worst: Coppertone Kids Lotion, SPF 70+

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Worst: Coppertone Kids Lotion, SPF 70+

Products on the EWG's list of the worst sunscreens tend to have crazy-high SPFs. If they truly offered that kind of protection, that wouldn't be a bad thing, but the truth is that anything over 50 isn't going to be any more beneficial or effective when it comes to protecting your kid's skin. (Amazon, $15)

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Worst: Coppertone Water Babies, SPF 70+

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Worst: Coppertone Water Babies, SPF 70+

Consumers typically consider a sunscreen's SPF number when they're deciding what to buy, and manufacturers know that. One way sunscreens with 70+ SPFs like this one get those numbers is by taking only UVB rays into consideration. Those are the rays that cause burns, but it's the sun's UVA rays that pose a greater cancer risk. So even when sunscreen lotions tout SPF numbers of 70 or above, like this one from Coppertone does, that doesn't mean your kids are protected from the really harmful stuff. (Amazon, $25)

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Worst: Coppertone Water Babies Stick, SPF 55

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Worst: Coppertone Water Babies Stick, SPF 55

Those high numbers and the way they capitalize on consumer confidence have caused the FDA to consider capping SPF numbers at 50 or below. But a sunscreen lotion or stick with a high SPF or an aerosol can aren't the only things moms should be on the lookout for when they're stocking a beach bag. (Amazon, $14)

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Worst: Equate Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55

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Worst: Equate Kids Sunscreen Stick, SPF 55

The worst sunscreen products for kids also tend to offer less-than-ideal stability, which means the ingredients used in them begin to degrade in UVA or UVB rays, diminishing the efficacy of the product altogether. (Walmart, $4)

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Worst: Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Spray

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Worst: Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Spray

Another huge concern when it comes to some of EWG's worst kids' sunscreens is that they use two potentially harmful chemicals to block the sun's rays: a form of vitamin A called retinyl palmitate and a nasty chemical called oxybenzone.

That second ingredient, oxybenzone, is even more worrying. Besides being a common UV filter, it acts as a hormone disruptor in the body after it's absorbed through the skin, mimicking estrogen. It can also cause an allergic reaction, so you want to steer well clear of sunscreens that list oxybenzone as an active ingredient, as Neutrogena's Wet Skin for kids does. (Amazon, $10)

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Worst: Hampton Sun Continuous Mist

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Worst: Hampton Sun Continuous Mist

That first one, retinyl palmitate, actually has a history in the laboratory of inducing more skin tumors and lesions on lab mice, not less. You can see why this might not be the best stuff for a child's skin. The good news is that, according to EWG, the number of sunscreens with retinyl palmitate on the ingredient list has dropped from 40 percent of all products to only 16 percent between 2010 and now. (Amazon, $32)

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Worst: Up & Up Kids Stick, SPF 55

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Worst: Up & Up Kids Stick, SPF 55

Despite the serious concerns that oxybenzone poses, sunscreen manufacturers still rely pretty heavily on its use, and EWG found that of the non-mineral sunscreens it tested, 70 percent of them listed it as an active ingredient. Et tu, Target? (Target, $7)

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Worst: Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Stick, SPF 70+

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Worst: Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Stick, SPF 70+

Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids may seem like a good pick for swimming trips, but it scored poorly on the EWG tests. (Amazon, $8)

Want to know which kids' sunscreens to pick up instead? The best sunscreens you can buy are coming right up.

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Best: All Good Kid's Sunscreen, SPF 33

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Best: All Good Kid's Sunscreen, SPF 33

EWG's five criteria for "good" sunscreens included a look at potential safety or health hazards in a sunscreen's ingredient list, UVA protection, UVB protection, UVA/UVB balance and the product's efficacy (or how long it takes for its protective ingredients to break down in the sun over time) on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the best possible ranking. This year, 22 products had an overall score of 1, including this lotion from All Good marketed toward kids. (Amazon.com, $13)

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Best: Adorable Baby Lotion, SPF 30+

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Best: Adorable Baby Lotion, SPF 30+

We know what makes a bad sunscreen bad, so what should we use? Adorable Baby puts out the first of many great sunscreen lotions you can feel OK about buying this year. (Amazon.com, $20)

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Best: All Terrain KidSport Lotion, SPF 30

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Best: All Terrain KidSport Lotion, SPF 30

Speaking of child-centric marketing, which was one of the initial criteria for testing (the product had to be specifically marketed toward children), it's worth mentioning that according to EWG, the FDA does not require manufacturers to hold their kid-focused products to standards that are any different from those for adults. That even includes high scorers like All Terrain's KidSport lotion. (Walmart, $18)

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Best: Attitude Little Ones 100% Mineral Sunscreen

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Best: Attitude Little Ones 100% Mineral Sunscreen

In fact, the group said that in its own testing, it found no systematic differences between sunscreen marketed toward kids and sunscreen marketed toward adults, which is definitely food for thought. It did find a major uptick in all-mineral lotions, like this one from Attitude, though. (Amazon.com, $23)

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Best: Badger Kids Sunscreen Cream, SPF 30

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Best: Badger Kids Sunscreen Cream, SPF 30

Labeling is important, and while EWG expressed dismay that nearly 75 percent of the sunscreens it tested were still using chemicals that pose potential hazards, it noted that the FDA cracked down in 2011 on brands marketing their products as water- or sweat-proof. While we wait for other concerns to be addressed, an SPF 30 sunscreen lotion like Badger's is a good bet. (Amazon, $14)

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Best: Bare Belly Organics, SPF 30

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Best: Bare Belly Organics, SPF 30

In fact, SPFs are a huge point of contention for the group. "Sun protection factor" is a theoretical measurement that is supposed to denote how much longer you can stay in the sun with product on versus how long you can without. There are a few problems with that, but sunscreens that have low SPFs are actually a better bet. (Amazon.com, $23)

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Best: Belly Buttons & Babies Lotion, SPF 30

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Best: Belly Buttons & Babies Lotion, SPF 30

At least part of the reason that SPF numbers are misleading is that sky-high numbers lead people to believe they can stay out in the sun longer, when the truth is that even with a good sunscreen on, kids (and adults!) should take extra steps to stay safe in the sun. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, take breaks, and keep kids under 6 months out of direct sunlight entirely. (Belly Buttons & Babies, $25)

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Best: BurnOut Kids Physical Sunscreen, SPF 35

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Best: BurnOut Kids Physical Sunscreen, SPF 35

When it comes to sun safety, it's never a great idea to judge a sunscreen by its packaging. A high SPF isn't a guarantee, and if you're not applying sunscreen lotion 30 minutes before you hit the pool and every 60 minutes after that, you need to start. (Amazon.com, $14)

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Best: California Baby Super Sensitive Lotion

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Best: California Baby Super Sensitive Lotion

You should always be using a broad-spectrum sunscreen lotion as well, which means you aren't looking for something just with UVA or UVB protection — you're looking for one with a good balance of both, like this one from California Baby. (Amazon.com, $16)

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Best: Coola Baby Mineral Unscented Moisturizer

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Best: Coola Baby Mineral Unscented Moisturizer

A big benefit to mineral sunscreens is that they rely on old standbys like zinc oxide to provide broad-spectrum protection, because that particular mineral, along with titanium dioxide, maintains its stability in the harsh rays of the sun. (Dermstore, $36)

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Best: Goddess Garden Kids Sport

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Best: Goddess Garden Kids Sport

Non-mineral sunscreens tend to use dubious chemicals like oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate to boost their SPF margins, which we've already established is a no-no. But those chemicals don't come just with high SPF numbers; they have other potential hazards as well. It's best to steer clear of them altogether and grab natural mineral sunscreens like this one from Goddess Garden instead. (Amazon, $16)

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Best: Kiss My Face Kids, SPF 30

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Best: Kiss My Face Kids, SPF 30

Sunscreen lotions that provide superior protection are obviously very important, but they aren't enough on their own. In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, protective clothing is your child's first and best defense. So grab that hat and rash guard while you can — your kids will definitely thank you for it later. (Amazon, $13)

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Best: Nurture My Body Baby

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Best: Nurture My Body Baby

One of the other great benefits that mineral sunscreen lotions provide is their stability over time. Of course, you have to keep reapplying any sunscreen you put on your kids, but when chemically based sunscreens break down in the sun, the protection you thought they were providing also breaks down, so stick to minerals. (Nurture My Body, $30)

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Best: Substance Baby Natural Sun Care Creme, SPF 30

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Best: Substance Baby Natural Sun Care Creme, SPF 30

EWG noted that while all but one of its best sunscreens for kids are lotions, a stick sunscreen is fine too as long as you stick to one of the brands that scored high. They're great for getting the tips of little ears protected, but lotions definitely do the literal legwork. (Greater Goods, $18)

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Best: Sunology Kids

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Best: Sunology Kids

Taking care of young skin is a big job, and getting kids into the habit of slapping it on when they're young will give them habits that will carry them through adulthood with healthy skin. Just don't forget to instill those habits on cloudy days or when harmful rays get an extra boost from reflective surfaces like pool tiles or snowy slopes. Sun safety is year-round, so sunscreen lotions that use minerals like titanium dioxide, like this one from Sunology, should go into beach bags as well as diaper and book bags. (Amazon, $14)

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Best: Sunumbra Sunkids Natural Sunscreen, SPF 40

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Best: Sunumbra Sunkids Natural Sunscreen, SPF 40

Some other things to keep in mind when you're brushing up on sun safety with your kids this summer? It takes only 15 minutes for unprotected skin to start becoming damaged in the sun, and a full burn can take up to 12 hours to fully develop. So besides just rubbing on highly rated kid-safe sunscreen 30 minutes before playtime, teach your kids to pay attention to their bodies. A little sun-flush can turn into a nasty burn overnight. (Sunumbra, $29)

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Best: Thinksport for Kids, SPF 50+

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Best: Thinksport for Kids, SPF 50+

Another huge benefit to grabbing one of EWG's best kids' sunscreens — besides healthy skin, of course — is that many of them use organic and all-natural ingredients, so if that's one of your concerns, then a great sunscreen can kill two birds with one stone. (Amazon, $10)

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Best: TruKid Sunny Days Sport, SPF 30+

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Best: TruKid Sunny Days Sport, SPF 30+

So to sum it up, a good sunscreen is going to have a broad range of protection with a moderate SPF, use a mineral-based formula and come in a lotion or stick form. Always do an ingredient check when you're scoping a new sunscreen, but if you want to save yourself some time, you can pick one off this list, like TruKid Sport. (Amazon, $19)

So there you have it, the best and worst sunscreens targeted toward kids this year. It can seem daunting, but checking to make sure you're using mineral sunscreens in lotion or stick form with a broad spectrum of protection in a moderate SPF range is more than worth it for your kids. It can be lifesaving.

Having a definitive list like this one at your disposal definitely helps, but EWG disclaims all of its study findings and rankings with a reminder that manufacturers will often switch up their ingredient lists. So before you put sunscreen in your cart, make sure you flip it over and give the ingredient list a gander to ensure you aren't rubbing an ineffective sunscreen with troublesome ingredients onto your child's skin.

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The guide

Design by Tiffany Egbert/SheKnows; Image via Getty Images
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The guide

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