Since kids' skin can be more sensitive to chemicals, fragrances and other potential irritants, many sunscreens for kids omit these ingredients. The bulk of baby and kid sunscreens use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to physically block the sun's rays instead of relying on chemicals that are absorbed into the skin.
If you want an effective, easy-to-apply kids' sunscreen that also gets a nod for safe ingredients, reviewers say it's hard to do better than Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen (Est. $3.45 per oz.). Available only as a physical sunscreen lotion, Thinkbaby is also sold as Thinksport (Est. $4.60 per ounce), which might appeal more to bigger kids who resist anything "baby."
Thinkbaby, a broad-spectrum lotion that protects against UVA and UVB rays, is SPF 50+ and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. EWG calls it a "top choice for sun protection," saying it provides excellent UVA protection and a good UVA/UVB balance. EWG also gives Thinkbaby top marks for ingredient safety, which may be a particular concern for kids' sunscreens. The main ingredient is zinc oxide, and there is no oxybenzone, parabens or other potentially harmful ingredients, the group says.
While some natural sunscreens are thick, sticky and hard to apply, reviewers say that's not the case with Thinkbaby. Meg Collins of LuciesList.com says Thinkbaby "has a nice, creamy consistency" that makes it very easy to slather on a wriggly child. Most reviewers agree, though some warn that they received tubes that were overly watery. The sunscreen has a light fruity smell that reviewers say is pleasant and not overwhelming.
Another popular choice among safety-conscious parents, Blue Lizard Baby (Est. $3.60 per ounce) is a long-lasting, fragrance-free lotion for kids of all ages, reviewers say. Blue Lizard Baby is a physical lotion, but Blue Lizard also sells regular and sport sunscreens that contain a blend of physical and chemical blockers.
Like Thinkbaby, Blue Lizard Baby protects against both UVA and UVB rays. It comes only in SPF 30. Parents will want to note that it's not water-resistant. Environmental Working Group says it provides good UVA protection and a good UVA/UVB balance. EWG also gives Thinkbaby top marks for ingredient safety. The main ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. There is no oxybenzone, and the lotion is paraben-free.
Reviewers say Blue Lizard Baby is long-lasting and relatively easy to apply, especially for a chemical-free sunscreen. "It has a creamy smooth texture and even application that leaves a faint white cast," notes Paula Begoun of PaulasChoice.com. Most reviewers don't mind the white residue, saying it fades after a short time. The sunscreen is fragrance-free, which draws a lot of praise.
While there's no shortage of ingredient-conscious kids' sunscreens, many are pricey and can be hard to find in stores. Reviewers say Coppertone Water Babies (Est. $1.13 per ounce) is an effective chemical sunscreen alternative that won't break the bank and is found in most drug stores and big-box stores. It also comes as a spray, stick, and foam if you'd prefer something other than a lotion.
Available in SPF 50 and 70, Coppertone Water Babies protects against UVA and UVB rays. It's water-resistant up to 80 minutes. Experts give this sunscreen top marks for both UVA and UVB protection, and the SPF 50 version meets that claim in tests. EWG says it provides "moderate" sun protection but gives it only an average ranking for ingredient safety. EWG notes that it contains a few ingredients of concern, including oxybenzone and parabens. Another formulation, Coppertone Water Babies Pure and Simple (Est. $1.13 per ounce), does not contain oxybenzone. Like Thinkbaby and Blue Lizard Baby, its main active ingredient is zinc oxide.
Though most reviewers say Coppertone Water Babies is easy to apply, parents of children with sensitive skin should beware, says Begoun of Paula's Choice. Water Babies is "absolutely not a gentle, non-irritating formula as claimed," she says. "The active ingredients have the potential to sting or cause other types of sensitizing reactions on anyone's skin." Water Babies Pure and Simple is a better choice, but still contains ingredients that may irritate babies' skin, she says. Testers at TheSweethome.com say Pure and Simple "was thick, and took a bit to absorb," but still liked it overall. Buyers who are sensitive to smells will want to opt for the fragrance-free Pure and Simple; the original Water Babies has a powdery fragrance that some reviewers say is too strong.