The best sunscreens for kids, according to dermatologists

Finding the right sunscreen for your kids can be difficult. Of course, you want one that’s going to effectively protect them from sunburns (since research finds that five or more bad sunburns before age 20 can increase someone’s risk of melanoma by a whopping 80 percent). But you also want to make sure that what you’re putting on your child’s extra-delicate skin is completely safe.

What to look for in a sunscreen for your children

Regardless of age, always choose a sunscreen that’s broad-spectrum, meaning it blocks both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF 30 at minimum, says Viseslav Tonkovic-Capin, MD, a Kansas City dermatologist and editor of UVA rays prematurely age skin, while UVB rays cause sunburns; SPF refers to how much UVB light a sunscreen can filter out.

Spend a lot of time at the pool during the summer? “If your child will be partaking in water activities, make sure to look for a formula that is water-resistant,” says Gretchen Frieling, MD, a dermatopathologist in Boston. A sunscreen can be labeled water-resistant for up to 40 or 80 minutes, so you’ll still have to reapply regularly.

As for the type of sunscreen you use on your offspring, dermatologists advise sticking to mineral (also known as physical) formulas, rather than chemical ones, for a variety of reasons. “I prefer zinc oxide-based products, as unlike chemicals, they block out the full UV spectrum,” says Kenneth Mark, MD, a dermatologist and Mohs skin cancer surgeon in New York City. Plus, mineral sunscreens don’t absorb in the skin the way chemical ones do, are generally less irritating and are also better for the environment, notes Tonkovic-Capin.

While spray sunscreens are a popular choice among older kids and teens, Tonkovic-Capin prefers lotions and creams. “Sunscreens are designed to go onto your skin and not into your lungs or the lungs of other people around you when you try to spray it onto your skin,” he says. And as Sheel Desai Solomon, MD, a dermatologist in Raleigh/Durham, points out, “spray makes it difficult to regulate the amount you are putting on, meaning you can put on less than you need.”