Many sunscreens are advertised as suitable for babies and kids, but reviewers say the only differences between these "baby" sunscreens and adult sunscreens are irritating fragrances -- and occasionally, the form of UVA protection. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are mineral-based sunscreen ingredients that are less irritating to sensitive skin than avobenzone, and experts recommend them for babies and children. Mineral sunscreens take a little more effort to rub into skin, because they sit on top of the skin to block UV rays (as opposed to absorbing the rays the way chemical sunscreens do).
As is true with adult sunscreens, many baby sunscreens don't contain adequate UVA protection. That's why it's important to check the ingredient label for broad-spectrum protection in the form of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. Experts say that a gentle adult sunscreen is perfectly suitable for baby's skin. Likewise, formulas marketed to children are suitable for adults with sensitive skin.
Experts say that no sunscreen can block more than 97 percent of UV rays, which any formula with an SPF rating of 30 or higher can do. Experts suggest using an SPF 30 formula and reapplying it every two hours and after swimming or heavy sweating.
Blue Lizard Sunscreen Sensitive SPF 30+ (*Est. $15 for 5 oz.) uses minerals -- zinc oxide (10 percent) and titanium dioxide (5 percent) -- to block broad-spectrum UVA and UVB rays. Repeated reviewers praise this sunscreen, saying it provides excellent sun protection for long periods of time and doesn't irritate sensitive skin. Paula Begoun recommends the formula for sensitive skin of any age (including as a baby sunscreen) and says it has a smooth texture and an even application. Keep in mind that Blue Lizard also specifically sells a baby sunscreen (Blue Lizard Baby Sunscreen) that is identical to the Sensitive formula. The only differences are the label and the color of the bottle cap -- because of this, we've opted to include this more general version in our Best Reviewed as the best baby sunscreen.
Some drawbacks: Although most reviewers say they like Blue Lizard's thick and creamy consistency, it (like most zinc-oxide formulas) has a tendency to leave a whitish film on the user's skin -- particularly as they begin to sweat. Users at MakeupAlley.com and Drugstore.com also say it takes a while to rub in and can give users a pale appearance, but overall, reviewers say Blue Lizard blends in better than other similarly formulated sunscreens. You can also buy Blue Lizard sunscreen in 1.25- and 3-ounce tubes, which are a good size for traveling, as well as 5-ounce, 8.75-ounce and 1-gallon bottles.
An alternative, Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sunblock Lotion SPF 55 (*Est. $10.50 for 4 oz.) also provides broad-spectrum protection, but it is not chemical-free. It uses avobenzone (3 percent), along with homosalate (10 percent), octisalate (5 percent), octocrylene (2.8 percent) and oxybenzone (6 percent), which are chemical sunscreens. Beautypedia.com's Paula Begoun says it is a good, basic sunscreen, but she does not recommend it for babies or anyone with sensitive skin. That's because physical blockers like titanium dioxide are shown to be gentler than chemical sunscreens like this one. Aveeno sunscreen gets good ratings at MakeupAlley.com, where users say that it is easy to apply and it sinks into skin quickly. Reviewers here especially recommend it for those with sensitive skin, but several users at Drugstore.com warn of allergic reactions and say that it is harsh on eyes -- a real concern because babies tend to rub their hands in their eyes often.
Consumers with sensitive skin generally prefer chemical- and fragrance-free sunscreens. One highly reviewed item, the aforementioned Blue Lizard Sunscreen Sensitive SPF 30+ is both. This product uses mineral sunscreens zinc oxide (10 percent) and titanium dioxide (5 percent) to block broad-spectrum UVA and UVB rays. Reviewers praise this sunscreen, saying it provides excellent sun protection for long periods of time and doesn't irritate sensitive skin. Paula Begoun recommends the formula for sensitive skin of any age and says that it has a smooth texture and an even application.
Another option, SkinCeuticals Ultimate UV Defense SPF 30 (*Est. $40 for 3 oz.) uses 7 percent zinc oxide and 7.5 percent octinoxate. Although it contains some chemical actives, experts say the formula is less likely to cause irritation than other brands. It's also fragrance-free. Begoun gives the sunscreen a good rating but says that the formula lacks antioxidants, which is particularly disappointing for a company that emphasizes their use in their other products. Reviewers at MakeupAlley.com and Amazon.com say the formula is moisturizing and spreads evenly but feels a bit heavy and greasy. Furthermore, this pricey sunscreen is only available through skin care professionals or directly from the company's website.
Neutrogena Sensitive Skin SPF 30 (*Est. $8 for 4 oz.) is a good option for those on a budget, reviewers say. This sunscreen has been available for several years, but it "remains a good choice for sensitive skin," Paula Begoun says. She gives it her highest rating, citing the gentle, fragrance-free formula that uses only one active ingredient (titanium dioxide). She warns that it can leave a white cast on skin. Users at MakeupAlley.com have mixed opinions -- those with sensitive skin love it and say that it's hard to find a better option for such an affordable price but many say that it is very thick, doesn't absorb well and leaves skin shiny.