Best Sunscreen for Babies 2021

After testing 23 sunscreen and sunblock options available for babies and toddlers, as well as doing extensive research into sunscreen chemistry, we pick Coppertone Ultra Guard 70 as our top choice for the Best Sunscreen for Babies 2021.

In our opinion (we’ve been writing about babies and toddlers for 24 years), the best sunscreen is easy to put on a squirming baby or toddler, doesn’t smell overwhelming and performs the best in third-party tests. And it must be affordable—you’ll be reapplying this often to the sensitive skin of babies and toddlers.

Coppertone Ultra Guard checks off every box: it offers broad spectrum coverage (both UVA & UVB; see below for more info) with a SPF of 70 is available widely in stores and online, comes in large quantities (8 oz) and has very little smell.

In our tests, we think this sunscreen strikes the right balance for babies and toddlers: it doesn’t feel too heavy or sticky when applied and is water resistant for about 80 minutes. (We still recommend parents reapply sunscreen every one to two hours whether your child is in a pool or not.) The lack of scent is a major plus with babies or toddlers, who can be picky, as we all know!

Coppertone Ultra Guard is priced affordably and you can find it just about anywhere.

FYI: Coppertone makes a version of this sunscreen under the WaterBabies brand—that works equally well. Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 is highly recommended.

What’s the best SPRAY sunscreen for babies? Answer: NONE.

We don’t recommend spray sunscreen for babies or toddlers. That’s because these are difficult to apply evenly. There has been little research done into the health effects on babies or toddlers of inhaling spray sunscreen fumes. To stay on the safe side, we suggest just using lotion.

Why Trust Us

We’ve been rating and reviewing baby products since 1994. In addition to hands on testing, we have also scoured the latest research and interviewed dermatologists, pediatricians and physician’s assistant to provide background and insight. We also evaluate consumer reviews posted online, as well as our own message boards.

Here’s another key point: we don’t take money from the brands we review. No free samples, no sponsors, no “partnerships.” Baby Bargains is your independent and unbiased source for expert baby gear reviews. We’ve been writing and reviewing baby gear since 1994. Yes, that long!

How we picked a winner

We evaluate sunscreen with in-depth inspections, checking them for overall ease of application, fragrance, absorption and more. We’re especially interested in how well different brands stay on in wet conditions and how well the sunscreens screen out UVA and UVB radiation.

We also gather significant reader feedback (our book, Baby Bargains has over 1 million copies in print), tracking parents feedback. Besides interviewing parents, we also talk to pediatricians and dermatologist about infant skin needs and how sunscreens can help them.

7 Things No One Tells You About Buying Sunscreen!

1. Avoid using sunscreen when baby is under 6 months of age, as much as possible.

Try to avoid the sun between 10 am and 4 pm or use long sleeve, loose clothing and hats to avoid sun exposure. But if you can’t avoid exposing your infant to the sun, definitely use sunscreen. Babies under 6 months have a greater risk of skin irritation when using sunscreen, but the risk of skin cancer later in life outweighs potential irritation. Some specially formulated “baby” sunscreens claim to be milder—an example is the Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sunscreen Lotion.

2. Broad spectrum is best.

But what does”broad spectrum” really mean? The type of solar radiation dermatologists worry about is UV radiation. But there are two types to be concerned about: UVA and UVB. UVA causes skin to lose elasticity leading to wrinkles and premature aging, UVB causes sunburn and both play significant roles in developing skin cancers later in life.

Broad spectrum sunscreens help block both UVA and UVB, so make sure your sunscreen calls this out on the label. (You can find more information on broad spectrum from the World Health Organization.) Our top suncreen pick,  Coppertone Ultra Guard 70, is a broad spectrum sunscreen.

3. SPF.

Yep, you’ve seen SPF on sunscreen bottles since you were a kid, but what does it really mean? SPF actually means that you can stay out in the sun X times longer than if you used nothing on your skin at all. So if you typically start to burn in 20 minutes with no sunscreen, once you put on sunscreen with an SPF of 30, you can theoretically stay out in the sun for a total of 10 hours—assuming you are using it correctly.

So the higher the number, the better the protection, right? Wrong! Dermatologists note the amount of improved protection in an SPF over 30 (say 45, 50 or 70) is negligible. Instead, dermatologists recommend parents use sunscreen of at least 30 and apply it more frequently. FYI: Our top recommendation here is for a 70 SPF because it is the most affordable option as of this writing. Again, a 30 or 50 would also be fine!

Consumer Reports notes in their testing of sunscreen than many sunscreens offer less protection than promised on the label. This is one reason why we will constantly urge you to reapply sunscreen–if your brand isn’t up to snuff, reapplying frequently will offer more protection.

One caveat to our SPF rule: sometimes it is easier to find SPF 50 or 70 sunscreen at a lower price than SFP 30 (such as our top pick above). In general, we try to pick the best sunscreen (at least 30 SPF) at the most affordable price!

4. Reapply, reapply, reapply.

You’re going to get tired of hearing this!

No doubt you’ve noticed most sunscreens claim to be water resistant for between 40 and 80 minutes. So you figure you’ve got it covered for at least a few hours of brief interludes in the pool and more time spent on land. But the experts we’ve talked to all advise putting sunscreen on every one to two hours regardless of your activities.

Why? Easy answer: it rubs off, sweats off, washes off. So putting it on once a day is better than nothing, but putting it on every couple hours is a whole lot better. Stephen Alain Ko’a, a cosmetic chemist and skincare expert, explains why on his web site KindofStephen.com

“The reason why reapplication is recommended is because we often don’t apply enough in the first place and it’s constantly being removed from our skin (by rubbing off, sweating, etc). Reapplication helps ensure that we have a minimum density of 2 milligrammes per square centimeter of sunscreen on our skin and that we maintain that density throughout the day.”

5. How much is enough?

Great question. In fact, most dermatologists note that people hardly ever put enough sunscreen on when they use it. Experts say you need 2 milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. Nicki Zevola Benvenuti, a writer for FutureDerm.com, has a mathematician’s explanation for how much you really need to put on.

Bottom line: she says apply ¼ teaspoon of sunscreen to your face. For the rest of your body, you likely will need about an ounce. You can use a half a shot glass or a small measuring cup (see photo below; OXO 2 oz. measuring cup) to make sure you’re using enough. Unfortunately, the amount shown is for an adult, but if you use ¼ to ½ that amount for a child, you should be good.

how much sunscreen

6. Which type of sunscreen is better: chemical, mineral (physical) or a combination of the two?

Although it’s technically a misnomer, “mineral”  (also referred to as “physical”) sunscreens are those whose active ingredients are zinc oxide, titanium oxide or a combination of the two. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are “inorganic” compounds (no carbon atoms are involved in these compounds). That’s why these sunscreens are referred to as mineral or physical.

“Chemical” sunscreens use one or more of these following compounds:

  • Octocrylene
  • Avobenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Homosalate
  • Mexoryl SX
  • Mexoryl XL
  • Tinosorb S
  • Tinosorb M Kocti

Finally, “combination” sunscreens use both mineral and chemical compounds to absorb/reflect UV radiation.

Bottom line: after studying this issue for many years, we think the science just isn’t there to claim that one type of sunscreen is better/safer than another—it’s beyond the scope of this article to delve into the arguments for or against. We do recommend if you choose mineral sunscreens, select one with at least 5% zinc or titanium oxide.

What do other researchers say? Consumer Reports claims it hasn’t found a mineral-only sunscreen it can recommend, based on its lab tests. Above, we do recommend both a mineral and a combination option that our readers say works well—with the caveat that it may need to be re-applied more often than our chemical sunscreen pick.

Suffice it to say, most dermatologists and pediatricians will tell you the best sunscreen is the one you will use on a regular basis.

7. Keep baby undercover.

In the end, there is really only one way to keep your child’s skin safe from UV radiation: never leave the house. Since that’s not realistic, consider the second best way: cover him or her up. Clothing, particularly tightly woven clothing is a great way to protect baby’s skin without using sunscreens. You can try sun suits and swim suits that cover baby’s arms and legs (many are made especially for wearing in the sun with SPF ratings), then add a broad brimmed hat and sunglasses. Bonus: this looks very cute for pictures!

 

Conclusion:

After testing 23 sunscreen and sunblock options available for babies and toddlers, as well as doing extensive research into sunscreen chemistry, we pick Coppertone Ultra Guard 70 as our top choice for the Best Sunscreen for Babies 2021.

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