Children are particularly susceptible to harm from overexposure to the sun. Even just a few blistering sunburns can double their chances of developing serious forms of skin cancer in their lifetime. EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens outlines commonsense steps you can take to protect your kids, whatever their age, so you can focus on having fun in the sun.
The best protection for your infant is to keep them out of direct sunlight, because their skin isn’t yet fully protected by melanin. Most sunscreen manufacturers don’t recommend using their products on babies six months and younger. If you have questions, consult the product’s warning label or your doctor.
If you do go outside with your infant, use protective clothing and a sun hat to shield their skin from exposure. It’s a good idea to find or make shade, either with a stroller canopy or an umbrella. The sun’s rays are strongest at midday, so plan your outdoor time for the morning or afternoon, when the UV index is lower.
Small amounts of sunscreen can be used on infants as a last resort when cover isn’t available, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, or AAP.
Toddlers and children
Although seeking shade and other ways of avoiding the sun remain the best ways to avoid sunburn and skin damage, sunscreen is a great option for kids playing outside.
But not all sunscreens are safe or effective.
Avoid using spray products, which pose inhalation risks, and products made with oxybenzone, “fragrance,” retinyl palmitate, retinol or vitamin A. We recommend avoiding sunscreens with SPF over 50+, since they don’t always provide better protection than those with a lower SPF value. These products can also give users a false sense of protection, which can lead them to reapply sunscreen less often.
Check out our top-rated sunscreens for children to find the right product for your family. We also offer a label decoder to help you navigate product warnings and ingredients.
Even if we rate a sunscreen highly, you should test it before use. Kids’ skin may be more sensitive than adults’ to irritants and allergens. To test a product, apply a small amount on the inside of your child’s wrist; if irritation or a rash develops, you’ll need a different sunscreen. Revisit our guide or ask your child’s doctor to suggest a less irritating sunscreen.
If you find a product that works, apply it often when your child is out in the sun. Sweating, swimming and playing can all make the product wear off. The rule of thumb is one ounce of sunscreen per application, reapplied at least every two hours, according to the AAP.
Sun safety is just as important for teenagers. Both tanning outdoors and in salons exposes them to dangerous UV radiation and sometimes untested chemicals and should be discouraged.
In addition to encouraging your teen to use sunscreen, you can also be a good role model for sun safety by protecting yourself with shade, clothing, planning and sunscreen. Don’t forget a good pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes from damaging UV rays.
For more information, visit EWG’s sun safety tipsheet.