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How to Choose the Best Sunscreen for Your Kids

Health + Wellness
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As with so many things in parenting, choosing a sunscreen for kids can be confusing and anxiety-provoking. You don't want your kids to get sunburned or have other skin damage that can lead to premature aging and cancer later in life. But neither do you want to coat them in sunscreen — and get yelled at while doing it — only to find out later that it's loaded with chemicals that may cause other health problems.


Some chemicals can have a more severe impact on the health of children than on adults, because children's bodies, organs, brains and hormones are still developing, building the physiological systems they will live with for the rest of their lives. Adding exposures to hormone disruptors and carcinogens in early childhood can affect their lifetime health. And there are a number of chemicals in common sunscreens that raise concerns, including oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. The science is not settled, but there are plenty of good alternatives, so why take the risk?

Can you just tell me what *&#%! sunscreen to buy?

No, sorry, we can't.

But you can choose one from our list of Best Scoring Sunscreens for Kids. We can also teach you how to shop, which is especially helpful when you don't have access to the web. Knowing what to look for on the label will help you make the best choice for your kids.

Avoid:

  • Spray sunscreens and bug-repellant-and-sunscreen combo sprays
  • SPF greater than 50
  • Oxybenzone (in the active ingredients)
  • Fragrance
  • Retinyl palmitate, retinol or vitamin A

We don't recommend spray sunscreens or those with SPF over 50, so eliminate those right off the bat. Sunscreen sprays pose inhalation risks and may not offer a thick and even enough application to protect against the sun's rays. Meanwhile, sunscreens with SPFs over 50 provide only slightly better protection than those with low SPF values, and they have a worse balance of protection, especially for UVA rays. But they often fool people into thinking they can stay outdoors longer. We don't recommend bug repellant and sunscreen combination products because you don't necessarily need one just because you need the other, so why use the chemicals unnecessarily?

Choose:

  • A mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (in the active ingredient(s))
  • If you must choose a chemical sunscreen, look for avobenzone (3 percent; in the active ingredients)

Avobenzone reduces UVA damage that can lead to skin aging and cancer. However, choose products carefully: Avobenzone is often used in combination with other chemical active ingredients, many of which are hormone disruptors.

Help! Sunscreen is messy and frustrating and has to be reapplied so often! What’s the best way to get it on my kids and keep it there?

We can relate. Putting sunscreen on wet, fussy kids can suck all the joy out of a relaxing summer day. But then again, so can a sunburn.

First, dress kids in shirts and shorts, even at the pool. Reducing the amount of sunscreen needed by covering your kids up with fabric means you've cut your battle in half or more. Shirts and shorts help protect their skin during hikes and play time out of the water, and rashguard-type clothing can be used on top of (or instead of) swimsuits. Plus, kids' shoulders and backs are prone to serious sunburn — especially when they're playing in water — so using a barrier of clothing between their skin and the sun is simple and important. Add a hat and you've reduced your kids' chances of major sunburns and skin damage.

Second — and sorry if we're boring you — but avoid the sun as much as you can, especially with infants and young children. Plan to bring kids in for lunch or a nap midday, when the sun's rays are strongest and the risk of UV damage is highest. And come equipped with a plan for shade — whether it's a tree at the park, a pop-up shade tent or a dash for an umbrella-covered spot at the pool. In short, don't go outside unless you have a plan to give the kids a place to sit, eat and hide from the sun for periods of time.

EWG’s Top Tips: Sunscreen Should Be Your Last Resort

1. Wear Clothes.

Shirts, hats, shorts and pants shield your skin from the sun's UV rays, reducing burn risk by 27%.

2. Plan Around the Sun.

Go outdoors in early morning or late afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky.

3. Find Shade — or Make it.

Picnic under a tree or take a canopy to the beach. Keep infants in the shade, reducing the risk of multiple burns by 30%.

4. Don't Get Burned.

Red, sore, blistered skin means you've gotten far too much sun.

5. Sunglasses Are Essential.

Not just a fashion accessory, sunglasses protect your eyes from UV radiation.

6. Check UV Index.

The UV Index provides important information to help you plan your outdoor activities in ways that prevent sun overexposure.


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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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