It’s scary to think, but researchers with the American Cancer Society say more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the United States than all other cancers combined. What’s reassuring, though, is that there’s is more than one way to protect you and your kids from the sun’s damaging rays; and sunscreen tops the list. But not all sunscreens are created equal, so if you’re looking for the best sunscreen for kids (and for you, too), it can be challenging. But it doesn’t have to be.
A recent study found melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) accounts for up to three percent of all pediatric cancers. And additional research points out that one in five people will develop skin cancer at some point during their lifetime. But a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found using sunscreen can reduce your chances of a melanoma diagnosis by as much as 73 pecent.
So, let’s take a look at the best sunscreen for kids (and you, too).
The Best Sunscreen for Kids Starts with SPF
If you’re looking for the best sunscreen for kids, and the rest of your family, the first thing you’re probably going to look at is SPF. That’s because the most important job of your sunscreen is to prevent sunburn and SPF stands for “sun protection factor”. The SPF of your chosen sunscreen tells you how good of a job that particular product will do to protect your skin from UVB rays.
When making your decision, you should take into account the fairness of your skin and the amount of time you expect to be in the sun. Take a sunscreen with SPF 15, for example. If you are someone who usually burns within 10 minutes of sun exposure, an SPF 15 sunscreen multiplies that base number by 15; so, in this case, you would be protected from the sun for 150 minutes.
However, researchers at the Skin Cancer Foundation point out that the benefits of SPF don’t increase exponentially. In fact, there’s actually a fairly small difference between SPF 15 and SPF 30. An SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93 percent of UVB radiation, while an SPF 30 sunscreen blocks nearly 97 percent. Most experts recommend a sunscreen with an SPF no lower than 30 or higher than 50.
The Best Sunscreen for Kids is Broad Spectrum
That’s because "sky-high" SPFs don’t get you much added protection. Remember, SPF only refers to how well the product is blocking UVB rays, so your protection peaks at 50 SPF, as long as you’re applying the proper amount. The best sunscreen for kids (and you, too) is broad spectrum. That means it blocks both UVB and UVA rays from the sun.
The importance of using both UVB and UVA protection cannot be emphasized enough. To make sure you’re protected, your sunscreen should include some combination of the following UVA-blocking ingredients:
- Zinc oxide
- Titanium dioxide
Sunscreens with both UVA and UVB protection may also be labeled multi spectrum, but somewhere on the bottle should be a reference to both UVA and UVB protection.
The Best Sunscreens for Kids Don’t Break Down
To find the best sunscreen for kids (and adults), you may also want to look for “mineral only” on the label. Mineral-only sunscreens are stable in sunlight (meaning that they don't break down).
Mineral-only sunscreens are those that include zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients. These mineral ingredients are known as physical sunscreens—they’re designed to sit on top of a your skin and deflect the sun's rays. Other sunscreens contain chemical ingredients; instead of deflecting the rays, they absorb them.
Researchers with the Environmental Working Group say mineral-only sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays and don't often contain harmful ingredients. They also say these sunscreens are gaining in popularity. The percentage of "mineral-only" sunscreens doubled from 17 percent of all sunscreens in 2007 to 34 percent in 2017.
The Best Sunscreen for Kids Has the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal
If you’re buying the best sunscreen for kids (and yourself), you should see the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. To earn the seal, products must have their test results reviewed by an independent committee of experts in sun damage and sun protection. The Daily Use Seal is for sunscreens intended to protect against brief everyday sun exposures, the kind you experience walking to the car or running errands. The Active Seal is for extended exposures such as when playing sports or at the beach.
The Best Sunscreen for Kids Comes in a Shot Glass
The best sunscreen for kids (and you, too) is not going to provide you maximum protection unless you’re using the proper amount. Few people put on as much sunscreen as manufacturers advise. The proper amount is 0.00007054 ounces per 0.15 square inches of your body, but there’s an easier way to figure this out. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends putting the equivalent of a full shot glass of sunscreen over the exposed parts of your face and body.
Spray sunscreens are often more popular due to their easy application, especially for children. However, if you decide to go with a spray sunscreen, make sure you follow the directions carefully (some sprays require additional rubbing in, some don’t) and avoid applying your sunscreen in a windy environment. This can cause you to miss some spots and leave some areas of your skin unprotected. Consistent coverage is more easily achieved with a lotion sunscreen.
In short, if you’re looking for the best sunscreen for kids (and yourself) look for a sunscreen that is:
- Broad spectrum
- 30-50 SPF lotion
- Contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients
- Comes in a bottle with the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal
Remember to apply the proper amount to ensure maximum protection, not just this summer, but all year long.
If you are looking for more information on melanoma, check out our infographic: “10 Surprising Facts About Skin Cancer.” You’ll learn what doubles your risk for developing skin cancer and what age group is most at risk.