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Sunscreen Guide for Kids (updated for 2013)

Jul18

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Now that we know what to look for in a sunscreen, in terms of balancing protection versus health safety of the product, let’s talk about the products that are the best choice for your family. Over the past couple of months, I tested 15 sunscreens (much to the huge delight of my kids who just love it when I constantly rub sunscreen on them) and determined which ones I would recommend, based on safety of ingredients, performance and price.

Please note that I only tested broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF factor greater than 30, containing zinc oxide, that have a #1 or #2 ranking from the Environmental Working Group (update: we have relooked at our list and checked against EWG’s 2013 ratings) and didn’t contain the controversial ingredient oxybenzone. (Just to remind you, zinc oxide and avobenzone are the only active ingredients in sunscreen that protect against UVA1 rays, however zinc oxide protects against UVA2 and UVB rays as well.) Also, personal preference is a big factor in finding a sunscreen that you like, so while all of the products did pretty much the same job protecting our skin from the sun, some we didn’t care for based on smell, ease of rubbing into the skin, or just the overall gloppiness of it. My kids are not big fans of gloppiness.

All of these sunscreens are available for easy purchase online (hello, Amazon!) and we wouldn’t be surprised if we missed one or a few that we should have considered in our “testing phase.” Just let us know in the comments and I’ll be sure to try it out on my kids. (They’ll be super excited about that.)

Preferred & Top Sunscreens for Kids

That said, here are three broad-spectrum sunscreens that I would recommended, in order of preference (my #1 favorite is listed in the next paragraph): Badger Sport, Loving Naturals Sunscreen and Alba Botanica. All of these sunscreens are effective, safe and don’t contain harmful ingredients. My kids didn’t love the feeling of the Badger, but that was outweighed by its great protection and non-nano ingredients (here’s an explanation on why I look for “non-nano zinc oxide”).

Best-Rated Kids Sunscreen: Thinksport & Thinkbaby Sunscreen

Now, on to my top recommended sunscreen: ThinkSport. Everyone in my family immediately liked the light feel and “creamsicle” scent of this sunscreen and it was very effective in protecting our skin. Yes, it’s one of the pricier options (at $5.33 per oz), however, I don’t mind paying more for something that I feel good about using and my kids like. (Also, it’s worth noting, that unbeknownst to me, Isabel and her family chose ThinkBaby sunscreen (which is by the same company) as their favorite in a personal and non-structured test she did last summer.)

Reviewed Sunscreens for Kids at a Glance

For a more in-depth look at the 15 sunscreens I tested, here is my comprehensive review of each one:

Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Sunscreen
Primary Active Ingredient: 14.5% Zinc Oxide
SPF Factor: 30
Price: $10.83 for 4 oz.
Price per oz: $2.71
EWG Rating: 2
Company claims: Recommended by Skincancer.org
Ease of rubbing into skin: Fair.
Personal Thoughts: No smell, not too thick, not too goopy. Good protection.

Aubrey Natural Sun Sunscreen
Primary Active Ingredient: 12% Zinc Oxide
SPF Factor: 30+
Price: $14.72 for 4 oz.
Price per oz: $3.68
EWG Rating: 1
Company claims: Good for sensitive skin.
Ease of rubbing into skin: Not good.
Personal Thoughts: Very goopy, hard to rub in. Did okay at sun protection.

Badger Sport Sunscreen 
Primary Active Ingredient: 22.5% Zinc Oxide (non-nano)
SPF Factor: 35+
Price: $15.65 for 2.9 oz.
Price per oz: $5.40
EWG Rating: 1
Company claims: “Extra” zinc oxide, very water resistant.
Ease of rubbing into skin: Not good. Also reappears on skin when you sweat.
Personal Thoughts: Very thick. Kids hated the smell. Hard to rub in on squirmy kids. But good protection as well as peace of mind that it has the safest ingredients.

Badger Sunscreen (some Badger versions were voluntarily recalled on 9/25/13)
Primary Active Ingredient: 20.50% Zinc Oxide
SPF Factor: 30+
Price: $13.60 for 2.9 oz.
Price per oz: $4.69
EWG Rating: 1
Company claims: At least 60% organic ingredients
Ease of rubbing into skin: Fair.
Personal Thoughts: Thick, smelly. The boys hated the feeling of it. Separates if not squeezed before opening. Still, good protection.

Burn Out Kids Physical Sunscreen
Primary Active Ingredient: 18.60% Zinc Oxide
SPF Factor: 30+
Price: $18.25 for 3.4 oz.
Price per oz: $5.37
EWG Rating: 1
Company claims: Rich in anti-oxidants and enriched with extracts of papaya, plankton and plantains.
Ease of rubbing into skin: Good.
Personal Thoughts: Nice and light feeling. No scent. Protection was just okay.

eco Logical Skin Care Sunscreen
Primary Active Ingredient: 20% Zinc Oxide (non-nano)
SPF Factor: 30+
Price: $10.68 for 1.8 oz.
Price per oz: $5.93
EWG Rating: 1
Company claims: Reef safe, biodegradable, no chemical UV absorbers
Ease of rubbing into skin: Not good.
Personal Thoughts: Horrible, shocking smell. We couldn’t get past it.

Goddess Garden Baby Natural Sunscreen
Primary Active Ingredient: 20% Zinc Oxide
SPF Factor: 30
Price: $18.19 for 3.5 oz.
Price per oz: $5.20
EWG Rating: 1
Company claims: 74% organic
Ease of rubbing into skin: Fair.
Personal Thoughts: Goopy, leaves skin white, takes time to soak into skin. Not much smell.

Hara Bodycare Sport Sunscreen (7/2013: no longer rated by EWG)
Primary Active Ingredient: 20.3% Zinc Oxide
SPF Factor: 30
Price: $6.99 for 3 oz.
Price per oz: $2.33
EWG Rating: 1
Company claims: Contains only 7 all-natural ingredients
Ease of rubbing into skin: Good.
Personal Thoughts: Ingredients will separate, so if you don’t squeeze the tube before opening, you might get a handful of icky oil. Didn’t love this one.

Jason Pure Natural Sun Protection Sunscreen
Primary Active Ingredient: 14.5% Zinc Oxide, 2.0% Titanium Dioxide
SPF Factor: 30
Price: $8.99 for 4 oz.
Price per oz: $2.25
EWG Rating: not listed (July, 2013: now rated 2)
Company claims: For very sensitive skin, no parabens or phthalates
Ease of rubbing into skin: Good.
Personal Thoughts: No scent, goes on easily. Boys turned slightly pink, so protection wasn’t as good as others.

Jason Sunbrellas Natural Sun Care Sunscreen
Primary Active Ingredient: 2.5% Zinc Oxide, 8% Titanium Dioxide
SPF Factor: 30+
Price: $12 for 4 oz. (we could only find a link to a case for 6)
Price per oz: $3
EWG Rating: 2
Company claims: Hypo-allergenic, ideal for sensitive skin
Ease of rubbing into skin: Fair.
Personal Thoughts: No scent, goes on easily. Kids stayed protected.

Loving Naturals Sunscreen
Primary Active Ingredient: 24.7% Zinc Oxide (non-nano)
SPF Factor: 30+
Price: $12.99 for 2.5 oz.
Price per oz: $5.20
EWG Rating: 1
Company claims: Safe for babies, non-nano zinc oxide
Ease of rubbing into skin: Good.
Personal Thoughts: Goes on clear and smoothly.  No smell.  Good protection.

Purple Prairie Botanicals Sunstuff Sunscreen
Primary Active Ingredient: 20% micronized Zinc Oxide
SPF Factor: not listed
Price: $18.29 for 5 oz.
Price per oz: $3.66
EWG Rating: 1
Company claims: “Meets the rigid standards for sunscreen allowed in the protected coral reef lagoons of Mexico.”
Ease of rubbing into skin: Not great.
Personal Thoughts: Not too thick, no smell. Must be really rubbed in. Good choice if your kids are reef diving in Mexico?

Raw Elements Physical Eco Protection Sunscreen
Primary Active Ingredient: 23% Zinc Oxide
SPF Factor: 30+
Price: $18.99 for 3 oz.
Price per oz: $6.33
EWG Rating: 1
Company claims: Very water resistant, blocks UVA1, UVA2 and UVB
Ease of rubbing into skin: Not great.
Personal Thoughts: Thick and smelly. Hard to wash off hands after applying.

ThinkSport Sunscreen
Primary Active Ingredient: 20% Zinc Oxide (non-nano)
SPF Factor: 50+
Price: $15.99 for 3 oz. (full price, though on sale right now for $11)
Price per oz: $5.33
EWG Rating: 1
Company claims: First sunscreen to pass Whole Foods’ Premium Care Requirements
Ease of rubbing into skin: Great.
Personal Thoughts: Light feeling, goes on clear. Pleasant citrus scent. Very good results after being in sun.

True Natural Cosmetics All Natural Sunscreen
Primary Active Ingredient: 17.5% Zinc Oxide (non-nano)
SPF Factor: 40+
Price: $15.44 for 3 oz. (full retail price, on sale right now for $10.99)
Price per oz: $5.15
EWG Rating: 1
Company claims: Zero chemicals/zero harmful ingredients/immediately effective
Ease of rubbing into skin: Good.
Personal Thoughts: Goes on clear and smoothly. Nice fruity smell that I liked, but the boys didn’t. Sticky and hard to wash off hands.

(note: these above prices are based off of Amazon, and as such, vary. Check thoroughly for your best pricing options.)

So there you have it–our 2012 Sunscreen Guide for Kids & Families. I’m sure with all of these detailed choices, you’ll find a product that works great for you and your family. And remember—the best sun protection of all is to stay in the shade during peak hours and to wear a hat and protective clothing. Let’s keep our skin beautiful and our bodies healthy.

 

About the author

Wendi Aarons

http://wendiaarons.com
Wendi Aarons is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two sons. You can usually find her at Wendi Aarons, The Mouthy Housewives or starting fistfights near the 70% off rack at Target.


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8 Responses to “Sunscreen Guide for Kids (updated for 2013)”

  1. tasterspoon Jul 18 at 3:40 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for doing this! Ever since my family’s favorite sunscreen (Kinesys) got only a mediocre score from EWG I’ve been at a loss.

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Jul 18 at 3:56 pm Reply Reply

      Thanks, tasterspoon. That’s exactly why we did it. So many options, so much confusing information, etc. Figured if we broke things down a little systematically and then tested it out, it wouldn’t be so overwhelming. :)

  2. Kira Jul 18 at 10:26 pm Reply Reply

    I was disappointed that you didn’t try any of the traditional sunscreens. I haven’t heard of any of these before and I know my local Target doesn’t sell them. Amazon is nice but if I’m already at the beach and run out, I’d like to know what the best of the normal ones are.

    Was there a reason you left out the Coppertone, Aveeno, Neutrogena, and the like?

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Jul 18 at 10:55 pm Reply Reply

      Yup. And, we could have done a better job at explaining that. So here it is. There were specific reasons those and others weren’t included:

      First we ran through all the sunscreens that received #1 or #2 ratings on the Environmental Working Group’s list. Then we looked at the individual sunscreen ingredients. Even if a sunscreen had a #1 or #2 rating it would be eliminated if its ingredients were of concern. To us the bottom line is that there are plenty of choices out there and to look for those sunscreens that are not only effective but have the safest (or least harmful) sunscreen ingredients.

      For example:

      Coopertone: http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2012sunscreen/about-the-sunscreens/?search=Search+Here…&brand_id=768&ptype=All (even though some products had #2 ratings, wasn’t comfortable with the ratings of the individual ingredients)

      Aveeno: http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2012sunscreen/about-the-sunscreens/?search=Search+Here…&brand_id=441&ptype=All (only the face stick had a #2 rating and we were reviewing overall sunscreens)

      Neutrogena: http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2012sunscreen/about-the-sunscreens/?search=Search+Here…&brand_id=434&ptype=All (none of the sunscreens had #1 or #2 ratings)

      If you follow this link on the EWG website you can look at all the sunscreens in their database. Hope this helps. :)

  3. Lydia Jul 26 at 3:17 pm Reply Reply

    $3-$6 an ounce?! Yikes that will put you in the poor house pretty fast. An adult is supposed to use a shot glass full of sunscreen every two hours. That means a day at the beach could add up quick! Obviously kids don’t need that amount, but at $3 an applicaton you’d need a 2nd job to use these sunscreens all the time. This is why people opt for the ones available at Target. I’d think those are closer to spare change per application. Is there are reason the zinc oxide lotions are so pricey? Besides the yuppie marketing angle?

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Jul 26 at 6:13 pm Reply Reply

      Yup. I wanted folks to look at it on a price per ounce basis.

      I think that folks that read this site are smart enough to figure out the price vs. benefit for themselves. This post is a product of discussion between Wendi (the author) and myself whereby she was telling me that she was looking into the safety of sunscreen ingredients as she lives in Texas and was heading into summer. EWG has done a lot of that work, but even so she wanted to test out the effectiveness of those brands herself.

      As I mentioned to other commenters, you can find out more about the safety of the sunscreen ingredients of the brands that are indeed less expensive and found at drugstores. Just look here and search by brand: http://breakingnews.ewg.org/2012sunscreen/

      With respect to zinc oxide, I don’t know whether or not it is the reason for a product’s expensive. What we have learned is that it is the only single sunscreen ingredient that protects against ALL three UV rays: UVA1, UVA2 and UVB. See here: http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/uva-and-uvb/understanding-uva-and-uvb (scroll a bit to get to the sunscreen ingredient list). You can get the same UV ray protection from a combination of Avobenzone and other ingredients (look at the list i link to above to see how to get full protection).

      I had never heard of the zinc oxide being a “yuppie marketing angle.” But if you have more on that, please link to it. I’m interested in reading it. Thanks.

  4. Dr BS Aug 01 at 4:32 pm Reply Reply

    On a recent week long beach trip we used nothing but Blue Lizard sensitive skin (EWG rating of 2).  My husband, 2 year old and I returned home just as pasty pale as we left!  That was with just 1-2 applications per day (about 3 hrs on the beach in the morning and 2-3 hrs in the afternoon).  There was no smell but it did go on a bit thick (like most zinc based sunscreens).  I think it’s typically pretty expensive but a family member brought a 2 gallon jug so we had plenty to go around.

  5. Karen Aug 02 at 4:12 pm Reply Reply

    Tagging Lydia and Kira’s comments, it would be nice to see someone, anyone!, do an evaluation of “what’s the best of the rest.” Perhaps Alphamom is making a decision to focus only on the top tier of products which is fine, but there are many families for whom the top tier of every possible product that will touch my kids’ skin or enter their bodies isn’t going to work, and it would be a bit refreshing to see someone care about that market too. Personally, I use the Aveeno faces stick you mentioned and the Coppertone Pure and Simple that is rated #2 (both available at all drugstores). They are both pretty zinc-y and look white-ish on the skin for a while until they absorb fully but they get the job done for about $1 an ounce. I use the Coopertone on myself but splurge on a nice one for my face.

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