The best non-toxic sunscreen for babies and toddlers
The best non-toxic sunscreen for babies, including the safest mineral sunscreens for infants
It seems like every year since I’ve had a baby I delve back into the world of sunscreen research. After researching a ton of baby products when our first was born, I found out that some of the ingredients in most sunscreens aren’t actually proven safe. WHO KNEW that after all the years of wearing sunscreen I’d learn that it is full of chemicals and toxins that aren’t good for babies?! Or adults for that matter. Better yet, most of the products on the shelves at the grocery store labeled “baby sunscreen” aren’t actually non-toxic options. So of course, I had to go down the research rabbit hole to find a safe sunscreen for babies, or better yet, a truly non-toxic sunscreen for infants.
My husband and I are very fair-skinned (OK, slightly translucent). That, combined with a family history of skin cancer has given me a healthy respect for the sun. Needless to say, I’ve spent some time finding and testing a non-toxic sunscreen that I could put on my baby.
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Why you need non-toxic sunscreen for your baby
This may seem obvious, but I wanted to specifically address why you need a safe and non-toxic sunscreen for your baby. You’ll be using sunscreen a lot. During the summer when the baby gets a healthy dose of sun, you’ll need to use sunscreen more than once a day. Kids in daycare need to wear it into school and will have it reapplied in the afternoon. That’s a lot of sunscreen.
Even if you were ok using a sunscreen you didn’t love occasionally, you really need to trust something you’re slathering on your kid twice a day or more.
After all this research I have two that we like and use regularly, but they aren’t the typical sunscreen brands I grew up with.
Additionally, with the need to put it on more liberally EVERY DAY I was hoping to find a spray option that would be super easy. More on that later, but first off — let’s dive deep into non-toxic sunscreen so you have a better understanding of what you’re looking for.
What is non-toxic sunscreen?
First of all, to truly understand non-toxic and safe sunscreen for babies, you need to understand a few basic properties of sunscreen that you might not have known before. First of all, one of the inherent problems with unsafe sunscreen is that the chemicals are absorbed into the skin to then dissipate and absorb UV rays from the sun. For many people with sensitive skin, this can be irritating.
Mineral sunscreen sits on top of your skin and protects you by reflecting UV rays off your body. They’re sometimes called “physical” sunscreen because of the physical barrier between your body and the sun.
In general, through this article, I’ll be referring to mineral sunscreens as non-toxic sunscreen that is safe for your baby. Although not ALL chemical sunscreens have the worst ingredient lists, in general, I won’t be recommending them for babies for the following reasons:
- They are absorbed into your skin and get into your bloodstream. Many of the chemicals that make chemical sunscreen effective are also found in breast milk
- They take 20-30 minutes to work, due to the fact that they have to be absorbed by the body before they can then absorb the sun’s UVA/UVB rays
- Many (although not all) of the chemicals in chemical sunscreens have ingredients that haven’t been proven safe* (especially for babies)
*Why are they allowed then, you might ask? Well – I don’t really know. The best answer I could find is that these ingredients were all approved in the 1970s and had already been used in sunscreens for years. Although they haven’t been proven safe, and some are actually linked to problems – they got approval. That didn’t make me feel great, especially since I used chemical sunscreen my entire life until I had my first baby and started doing research.
“Safe” Mineral sunscreen typically includes either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, both of which have very low toxicity ratings from the EWG.
When to use sunscreen on your baby
Most pediatricians say that you shouldn’t use sunscreen until your baby is over six months of age. Of course, using sunscreen if you’re in the sun is better than letting your baby burn, but in general, staying inside or in the shade is the best bet to beat the sun with a very young baby.
Depending on when you have your child you’re likely going to need to use some type of sun protection before six months, so don’t despair. During our first summer, I asked my pediatrician what to do. Her advice was to use sunscreen if absolutely necessary but stick with sun protective clothing and shade when possible.
This wasn’t a huge problem in the grand scheme of things, and it got me started looking into UPF protective clothing. That said, I was SO worried about every little thing that touched her body at first. I obsessively googled baby sunscreen before I bought one, and learned a few key things to watch out for when buying a sunscreen for your little.
Resources to find safe sunscreen for babies
I found the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website when researching sunscreen and multi-purpose cleaners. After finding the site I might have become a little too obsessed with their ratings. I looked at every sunscreen on their Kids Sunscreen Guide and cross-referenced with Amazon reviews to make my final choice.
*Mom tip: be vigilant when reading ingredients claiming to be non-toxic
You need to understand the source of the article you’re reading before determining that the sunscreen is safe. I’ve read many “safe sunscreen” articles in my research that include products that score terribly on the EWG rating list. They even include chemicals deemed harmful. While I’m no expert on the subject, I did find a couple of really good sites with detailed information from ladies who know their stuff on ingredients and provided good context for what to avoid. A great resource is Gimmethegoodstuff. Check out her sunscreen guide here: Gimmethegoodstuff Sunscreen Products
Looking for other non-toxic baby products for your home? Check out our guide to non-toxic baby playmats – because your baby spends a LOT of time playing with her face down there!
Related: Non-toxic baby playmat roundup and reviews
What chemicals do I need to avoid in my baby’s sunscreen?
Unfortunately, a lot of the “bad” ingredients were in every sunscreen in my cabinet. EVEN MANY “BABY” SUNSCREENS HAVE THESE INGREDIENTS. The best thing to do is to read the ingredient label before you purchase. It’s the only way to make sure you aren’t getting any of the sneaky toxic ingredients.
Here is a quick graphic to keep in mind:
As a huge generalization, you’re “safe” with minerals and should avoid chemicals. However, even titanium dioxide and zinc oxide (widely regarded as the safest mineral sunscreen ingredients) can be more harmful in the powder and spray sunscreens.
The biggest standouts to avoid are Oxybenzone, Octinoxate (Octyl methoxycinnamate), Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene. Here are more details on each of these ingredients, and why you might want to avoid them.
Avobenzone is regarded as safer than the other chemicals but requires stabilizers for sun protection that likely aren’t as clean.
Mineral sunscreen that is safe for baby
After reading some bad reviews about sunscreen that was impossible to rub in, incredibly thick and greasy, or didn’t work and kids got burned, I took a leap and both ordered ThinkBaby and ThinkSport.
They are both great. While the little lady does turn a bit white, she smells good. I also definitely know which areas got sunscreen, which is really important with that baby skin. At +$10 for 3 oz. it definitely isn’t cheap, but it wasn’t the most expensive option on the list either. Since we had our first baby in 2016, people seem to have gotten on board because now you can buy ThinkBaby sunscreen at Target.
We’ve also tried Blue Lizzard sunscreen because of the good reviews on Amazon, the EWG rating, and the fact that it is slightly cheaper per ounce than Think Baby. Unfortunately, it isn’t rated on Safemamma.com or Gimmethegoodstuff (see below for more information) but the ingredients looked ok to my admittedly uneducated eye.
Both brands have stick and lotion options. However, I should note that in a lot of the articles I read it said parents tend to underutilize sunscreen in stick and spray forms. If you’re using a stick or spray, use liberally.
In general, I just recommend you stick with lotion while your kids are tiny.
Want more safe sunscreen options? Check out the video below!
What about a safe spray sunscreen for babies?
I’m very happy with both Think Baby and Blue Lizzard for general sunscreen use. However, now that we’re using sunscreen more frequently at daycare, I was hoping to find a spray option. I’m searching for one I don’t have to rub in so much on a squirming toddler.
I know, I should just be happy that I found a non-toxic sunscreen that protects her from burns. But I can’t leave it alone, so back on google, I’ve gone. I recently learned that you’re really not supposed to spray kids with sunscreen. Fantastic. Apparently, the aerosol can get sunscreen in their lungs, and you might not get optimal coverage. Why do they sell this stuff if you’re not supposed to use it?!
Anyhow… I haven’t yet been able to find a spray non-toxic sunscreen that seems ideal. Many of the “natural” brand reviews say that they are too chunky to spray or that they don’t work, neither of which I want to deal with. Now that I have two kids I’ll probably break down and use a spray soon. I’ll update the post if I find one we like.
What about sun protective clothing?
Since I’ve had such a love/hate relationship with sunscreen, I’ve also looked at sun-protective clothing. I try to be diligent about making sure little lady has a good UPF 50 hat and rash guard for sun exposure.
She was so tiny her first summer I had to buy an adjustable hat. Even the smallest sizes of other hats didn’t fit. This one did the trick. It protected her for the times we were in the sun. This past summer I got this one because it had a longer bill in the back. This is super helpful to protect the back of her neck. I got white because it goes with everything, and we only had to get one. It is also adjustable to make it tighter around the head if needed.
However, my favorite purchase so far has to be her ruffle butts rashguard bathing suit. A rashguard protects her arms from getting burned, and it means less sunscreen. The hat covers her neck, so we really only worry about her legs and feet!
Although I’m confident with our non-toxic sunscreen choices, I feel better knowing that I have an extra insurance policy with sun protective clothing. If only ruffle butts made this rash guard with full pants I’d be in business.
Baby sunscreen to avoid
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t list a few sunscreens that I THOUGHT were good but based on their EWG ratings and Gimmethegoodstuff, aren’t actually using safe ingredients.
Here’s a list of some of the common baby sunscreens you can find at the local grocery store, linked to their EWG pages. I’d avoid these if you have any other options.
Coppertone Water Babies (Pure & Simple) – avoid all Coppertone Water Babies, but I linked to the Pure & Simple version because it seems sneaky that this is one of the worst-ranked options from Coppertone.
La Roche Posay – “Gentle Sunscreen”
Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Mineral Sunscreen: this one says it’s a “sensitive skin mineral” sunscreen option so definitely tricky and gets the WORST EWG rating of 10.
Banana Boat Max Kid’s Sunscreen Spray also coming in with a “worst” rating of 10.
CVS and Walgreens generic sunscreens also have scores of “10” (the worst) EWG ratings.
I hope this helps as you plan your summer outside. Let me know if you have any other tips to beat the burn!