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A health watchdog group is shining a light on sunscreens marketed to babies and children.
The Environmental Working Group, a consumer watchdog group, released its annual sunscreen guide Wednesday, testing 265 beach and sport sunscreens specifically marketed to kids and babies.
Some of the findings were sobering: The researchers stress that there is no sunscreen that provides fool-proof protection from skin cancer and sun damage.
Best way to protect your skin
"What we find that sunscreen shouldn't be your first line of defense from the sun," EWG senior analyst Sonya Lunder told TODAY. "Any layer of clothing you're going to wear is going to provide much better protection."
Part of the problem, said Lunder, is that sunbathers tend to misuse and over-rely on the sunscreen. "One of the major things that we've concluded as more than a decade of research is that people apply about one quarter of the amount needed to get the SPF on the bottle. Basically, a user would need to put two coats of the sunscreen and replenish it every two hours or after each time in the water to maintain the advertised level of protection."
How to pick a good sunscreen
Nneka Leiba, the director of EWG's healthy living science program, shared a few key things to look for when picking a sunscreen.
- 1. Use a physical sunscreen.
All of the sunscreens recommended by EWG are physical sunscreens, meaning that they use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient.
Leiba shared that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the only two ingredients deemed both safe and effective by the FDA.
While EWG argues against sunscreens containing vitamin A additives such as retinyl palminate — it says they speed the development of skin tumors and lesions, the Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Dermatology note that no studies link the ingredient to skin cancer in humans.
- 2. Go for lotions and sticks over sprays.
Leiba recommends using lotion or stick sunscreens instead of sprays, citing that sprays have small partials that can get into the lungs.
- 3. Make sure it has an SPF between 15 and 50+.
A minimum SPF of 15, while following all of the other guidelines provided by the EWG, will provide adequate sun protection for most people.
European products also tend to have better UVA protection than ones sold on this side of the Atlantic because of stricter government standards regarding the ingredients, the group reported.
Lunder noted that children can use adult sunscreens. There is little difference in the ingredients between the adult and kid versions of most brands, although some in the latter category are less irritating on the skin or better smelling to kid's noses. Sunscreen is not recommended for babies under 6 months of age: For babies under 6 months, parents should keep them covered up and out of the sun.
10 of the best sunscreens for kids and babies
Further filtering the sunscreens that passed the group's stringent standards, the EWG provided a list of its top 27 products for kids. 10 of those top picks are:
- 1. Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Zinc Oxide Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, $10 (usually $11), Walmart
This mild sunblock is designed for sensitive skin, with a skin-soothing, naturally sourced formula.
- 2. Coppertone Pure & Simple Baby SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion, $9, Amazon
This naturally-sourced sunblock includes a blend of natural botanicals, including tea leaf, sea kelp and lotus extracts.
- 3. Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, $33 for a Pack of 3 (usually $37), Amazon
Get even more bang for your buck with this three-pack of Neutrogena sunscreens. With Purescreen Technology, this sunblock helps absorb, reflect, and scatter dangerous sunrays, and the unique tear-free formula won't sting eyes.
- 4. Baby Bum Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50, $14, Amazon
This sunblock is chock-full of natural moisturizing ingredients like coconut oil and shea and cocoa butters, and doesn't leave an oily sheen on skin.
- 5. Coola Mineral Baby Sunscreen Stick SPF 50, $20, Walmart
The stick format makes this sunblock particularly easy to apply, and the shea butter, tamanu oil, and sage extracts hydrate skin while preventing sun damage.
- 6. Sunology Kid's & Baby Safe Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, $15, Amazon
This gentle, fragrance-free lotion is infused with natural moringa oils and is completely cruelty-free.
- 7. Adorable Baby By Loving Naturals All Natural Sunscreen Spf 30, $20, Amazon
Cruelty-free, vegan, and made in the U.S., this sunscreen combines organic oils and zinc oxide for safe, gentle protection.
- 8. Bare Republic Mineral Baby Lotion SPF 50, $14, Walmart
This all-natural sunscreen is easy to apply and uses natural ingredients like zinc oxide, aloe, and shea butter to keep your baby's skin protected.
- 9. All Good Kids Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30, $13 (usually $16), Amazon
In addition to protecting skin, this lightweight lotion also uses organic green tea, rose hips, and buriti oil to repair already-damaged skin.
- 10. Waxhead Organic Baby Sunscreen for Kids, Infants SPF 35, $20 (usually $27), Amazon
With just six ingredients, this biodegradable sunblock provides full protection and won't damage the oceans you're swimming in.
You can check out EWG for the full list of 27 best sunscreens for kids and babies.
For more summer essentials, check out:
- The 5 best mosquito repellents and bug sprays for your family
- 22 of the best new beach essentials for your family
- The best sunscreens to buy in 2019 according to Consumer Reports