My kids’ feet have sandal lines on them. Despite our efforts to keep them fairly well protected, it’s mid-June and their little feet (and mine) are already showing the effects of our sun-loving habits. I think we’re probably like a lot of families. We know we’re supposed to protect ourselves from the sun, but putting that protection into practice takes some diligence. And then there’s the question of the best way to go about protecting ourselves in the first place.
Last month, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study confirming that four active ingredients in sunscreen—avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule—can be absorbed into the bloodstream. The study isn’t proof yet that this absorption is harmful, but it has prompted the FDA to take a closer look at over-the-counter sunscreens and they’re preparing a final recommendation to be published later this year. The proposed rule states that sunscreens that rely on physical UV-blockers that aren’t absorbed into the skin—zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide—will be “generally regarded as safe and effective,” and that others, like the ones that include trolamine salicylate and para-aminobenzoic acid, will not be.
More than only being concerning for humans, there’s also considerable evidence that certain chemicals—like oxybenzone and octinoxate—found in sunscreens are directly contributing to the rise in coral reef mortality rates. Places like Hawaii and Key West have banned sunscreens with these chemicals, asking that tourists and residents use reef-safe formulations instead. Of course, before you let out a sigh of relief, no, there’s no official “reef-safe sunscreen” definition and yes, last year a study suggested that zinc oxide might also be damaging to corals. OOF.
The bottom line is that while there’s a whole lot that’s still unclear, what is clear is that we probably need a multi-pronged approach to sun protection. In an effort to find sun protection that’s healthy for people and healthy for the planet, here are a few of the approaches our family is taking to keep our kids (and ourselves) protected from the sun, simply.
Straw hats: Growing up my sisters and I each had a wide-brimmed straw hat that we wore on long days spent outside. They kept our faces and shoulders covered, not to mention a good portion of the rest of us, too. I’ve carried on the tradition with my own kids. Faye and Silas both have a Brookes Boswell Nantes Straw Hat. The hats come with a drawstring that’s helpful for keeping them secure in the wind, and keeping them out of my hands when the kids decide they need a hat break. They’re not the easiest to stash or pack, but they offer tons of shade.
Brimmed caps: For something more packable, I’d look toward the sweet canvas caps from Pulp Co. They look easy to wear and easy to stuff into a backpack, or the back of a stroller, or the inside a bucket on the way to the beach. Also: Extremely cute.
Floppy sun hats: Packable and offering coverage of nose and neck, floppy sun hats might strike a reasonable compromise between a wide-brimmed straw hat and flat-billed cap. Silas has a sweet cotton knit Starling Sun Hats from Misha & Puff that he willingly wears on sandbox sojourns. City Proof makes an SPF 50 Floppy Swim Hat in colors to match its rash guards. And Polarn O. Pyret makes a UV Powered Eco Sun Hat that offers impressive neck and ear coverage.
As a kid, the only people I saw wearing rash guards were the amateur boogie boarders seeking thrills on the gentle waves of the Long Island Sound. Luckily for my kids, their use has become far more widespread. It’s easy to find inexpensive and effective rash guards that offer SPF 50 protection that won’t wash off in the water.
Canopea: This swimwear company prioritizes ethical production and sun protection and has pretty colors and sweet designs to boot. I love that their rash guards—called Rashtops—snap at the shoulder. (I’ve unintentionally made both of my children cry by yanking rash guards over their heads!). Canopea swimwear is rated SPF 50 and made from recycled polyamide that comes from rescued fishing nets and other post-consumer nylon waste.
Polarn O. Pyret: They have fewer options in terms of color or design, but I love the classic Eco Rash Guards Swim trunks (…even Evo Surfer Pants!) from Polarn O. Pyret. They’re also rated at SPF 50 and made from recycled polyamide and spandex.
City Threads: This company doesn’t use recycled nylon, but the quality and sun protection they offer are both solid, plus they’re affordable. We’ve had a few City Threads Rash Guards (and shorts!) over the years. They’re simple and come in a wide range of solid colors. (Just perhaps take my advice and skip the white one; unless of course you want to see the dirt your kid accumulates on their person in just one hour at the beach.)
There are few things I love more than the beach in the late-afternoon and early evening. Growing up, it was the time of day when my family and I mostly made our way to the water. My mom—a fair-skinned and freckled red-head—made sure that we didn’t spend long hours at the beach during peak sunlight hours.
Inside from 12 pm – 2 pm: James and I try to be mindful of keeping this general schedule with my kids. We make sure we’re out early and out late but that we spend a few careful hours inside or in the shade when the sun is highest in the sky.
In our family we’ve long taken the physical UV-blocker sunscreen route. I can’t say it’s always made for the most pleasant sunscreen wearing experience, and it can be a beast to wash off at the end of the day, but we’ve found a few good formulas over the years in case anyone else is on the hunt:
Beauty Counter: I had the chance to test-drive a few of the different Beauty Counter sunscreen products this year and I really like their Counter Sun Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30, ditto my kids. It goes on easily and doesn’t leave us feeling too sticky or too ghostly. Good news, it comes in a easily totable Sunscreen Stick, too.
Erbaviva: Their new zinc-based Baby Sun Stick is thick and creamy but not sticky. They sent a sample for my kids to try and it’s become Silas’s favorite. He never misses an opportunity to apply it *liberally* himself. Bonus: It smells like lavender.
Supergoop: Newly launched this summer, the Supergoop Sunny Screen is a baby and toddler-specific line that uses non-nano zinc oxide as its primary defense against the sun. It comes in a spray, a stick, or a lotion and is fragrance-free and hypoallergenic. I haven’t used this new line myself but I would feel confident to give it a try.
Loving Naturals: The Loving Naturals Adorable Baby sunscreen uses a non-nano zinc oxide, but still manages to go on clear. It’s a bit on the oily side, but that’s also what makes it kind of lovely—it feels moisturizing in ways that other sunscreens don’t. Bonus: It looks like they’re using a new bottle since I last bought from them which means folks will have an easier time of squeezing out the last drop!
What else? What are your tried and true sun solutions for kids?
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We’ve had good luck with Blue Lizard Baby sunscreen with our kiddos. It’s not particularly pleasurable to use our anything, but it’s highly rated by the EWG and it’s widely available (it’s at our local grocery store!). I’m very proud of ourselves that we’re 4+ years into parenting with no sunburns yet! I think it helps that I’m definitely not a big sun seeker, so we don’t bask in the sun too much.
I’m a fair-skinned redhead who grew up in SoCal, and my mom always enforced the no sun from 10-2 rule. My sister and I have fond memories of hanging out in our tent in the backyard for hours in the summer, listening to audiobooks and enjoying the shade!
I love this idea for when my kids are older!
I just started using the Beautycounter for my face, neck and chest. I totally agree with you on its virtues. Seems a little pricey for whole body application!
Have you found an affordable alternative you like for whole body application?
Not yet. We tried Green Beaver last summer but that was a total disaster! It does not rub in and got everywhere. We use Ombrelle normally because. frankly, its convenient to buy, easy to apply and we thought better than other traditional drug store brands. I notice they have a new mineral lotion for kids. But no EWG ratings. Your post is a good reminder to do some additional research and trials this summer. Will go through all your readers’ comments and your recommendations for sure. On price, I’m in Vancouver, Canada and frankly everything is just very expensive here!
ThinkBaby fits this bill. The entire family uses it and is ranked high in EWG website. It absorbs well and is not too greasy
In case anyone is looking for a very budget-friendly mineral sunscreen, Aldi’s kid’s sunscreen was reformulated this year to be mineral-based (zinc oxide), and it’s unscented and under $4!
Plain old shea butter has been working for us for years. (Granted, we live in the Pacific Northwest and generally avoid peak sun hours and wear clothes/swimsuits that cover. And yes to hats. And yes to shade). Plus, shea butter is supposedly anti-aging and just generally good for you!
Way to go ALDI.
Thank you sooo much. My 17 year old is allergic to any sunscreen that is not zinc. He is also very fair skinned and burns like crazy. He is good about spf fabric and hats but at times need more for his entire body. It takes a LOT of sunscreen to protect a 6’4” boy.
https://www.rawelementsusa.com/ offer certified reef safely products. Too bad they don’t ship to Russian 🙁
I have two kids, 2 and 4, who HATE sunscreen. I can say with absolute confidence that the Adorable Baby sunscreen is the easiest-applying physical-blocker sunscreen I’ve ever tried. Almost every single other one feels like trying to spread cold butter on toast, while the toast is screaming and running away.
Because of my kids’….temperaments, we mostly aim for shade, hats, and lightweight sleeves/long pants. My older guy attends a forest school and a summer forest-camp and I like the long pants for ticks as well as for sun protection – and if you get really lightweight ones it’s not any worse than wearing shorts. But some moments call for sunscreen, and in those moments, we reach for Adorable Baby. So glad to see it on this list, as I had a hard time finding it last year and often had to make do with other brands instead.
I have a similar issue and was referred to Supergoop’s sunscreen mousse. It’s amazing. Goes on so easily and quickly and my 3 year old actually wanted to help put it on. https://supergoop.com/products/super-power-sunscreen-mousse
We swear by think baby! It goes on well, is reef safe, and is mineral (not chemical), also only a bit more than run of the mill ones. You can also use an hsa for sun screen.
I second Think baby (or any Think) sunscreens. They are great! We just end up using the kids stuff also and it goes on really wells without streaking or whiteness!
Not too expensive either compared to « normal » brands
Another vote for Think Baby! It blends much better than other natural sunscreens I’ve used, and smells delicious. It’s easy to find too (my local Superstore sells it).
Easy to find is so key! Thanks to folks mentioning Think. Will have to try!
Man, I just typed in a comment, and it disappeared! In essence, I said that my family only buys physical sunscreen blocks, much to my husband’s dismay. He hates the white pasty stuff, but I put my foot down. We are all fair-haired (red/blonde) and need something effective. We also are living zero waste. Over the years, I have tried so many zero waste sunscreens. I’ve never loved any of them. This year, we settled on Raw Elements Baby and Kid version (https://www.rawelementsusa.com/collections/baby-kids) and I’m pretty happy with it. The tin is bigger than it looks in the pictures, and it blends in well. For anyone looking for sunscreen, I would recommend this. Know that it is physical and will get white stuff on your clothes, but its concentrated, so you only need a little and it blends in nicely.
Coconut oil mixed with one drop of lavender essential oil has proved effective in my family (FYI we are 50% black or brown). No toxins and no waste.
Lilian, I mean this in the most respectful way possible, please don’t use coconut oil as sunscreen. I have brown kids too and I know it doesn’t seem like their skin is being damaged because they don’t necessarily burn, but coconut oil is just not very effective. I am Team Coconut Oil all the way for lots of other things! And I totally hear you on not wanting to be wasteful! I wish there were a better solution.
I don’t have any specific recommendations, but a general one. When in doubt, take a look at the Environmental Working Group’s (https://www.ewg.org/) Skin Deep app (https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/). Because so much of what goes into beauty products is unregulated, they collect data and rate the safety of a variety of products.
Great ideas. One other thought is to seek shade. Although not always possible at the beach! Unless you create your shade via umbrellas. Not that any kid of mine wants to actually stay in the shade…
Primary also makes UPF 50 rash guards, including a one-piece for babies. We got our son the rainbow stripe one and it is adorable! They’re all very affordable, too.
My family tried Butterbean sunscreen for the first time this summer and I love the formula and that it doesn’t come in a plastic container
Excellent! I love these paper container options!
OH – and they have refills which is great…but some of their products are sold out on their site, they haven’t updated IG in a year, and their facebook account is deactivated….I wonder if they’re going/gone out of business?
I just really hate that Beauty Counter chose multi-level marketing as its company strategy (and that’s why I won’t buy from them). Their mission is to get safer products into the hands of everyone…but their prices really prevent that from being a possibility.
I know not all MLMs are created equal…some are better than others…but I don’t like the sales strategy.
Plenty of other options, though. We’ve used a variety of physical sunscreens…and they all work well at making us look ghost like 🙂
(and haven’t been burned).
Fellow MLM skeptic, so understood. My understanding is that Beauty Counter is moving away from that model, but admittedly I’m not totally clear. The product is great, but of course options abound.
Great choices for sunscreen. I was wondering what makes a sunscreen baby or toddler specific?
I think it tends to be a way for companies to denote sunscreens that are free of a lot of the chemical sunscreens that seem most questionable.
My mom always enforced the inside rule, except she was even more conservative (so we were inside from 10-3, unless we were at camp or something like that). But that also led to very happy memories of daily trips to a cousin’s pool, where we’d read for an hour before jumping in at that late-afternoon, sun-setting time when shadows overcast part of the water and the horseflies weren’t as bad.
Anyone have thoughts about Sun Bum? The pastey mineral sunscreens for myself and my two daughters were wearing me down when I stumbled onto Sun Bum. It smells absolutely amazing beachy and coconutty. It claims to be person and reef friendly.
It does smell good! I borrowed some from a friend recently. The EWG gives a mixed review (https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/brand/Sun_Bum/) and does seem to indicate that it includes oxybenzone, which would put it in the category as both reef-unfriendly and potentially harmful to humans. It’s tough out there!
Fellow hat and rashie lovers over here. I love Minnow swim rashguards for little ones. They are made in CA & woman owned, and last! My son’s swim items from there lasted 2.5 years, really only showing wear the final month. I decided to order (splurge) for the next round because I am so impressed they lasted that long. We are outside daily, year round, and so our sunscreen choice changes with the seasons (and humidity.) I love AvaSol, especially for active in the water days. Smells great too, almost like cinnamon French toast. Badger now makes a clear zinc option which is wonderful, also found at our grocery store for full body, full days. Sunscreen seems to be the one beauty item I struggle with plastic, but alas we also need the protection.
Hi there: Glad to hear you’ve had good luck with Minnow. Their designs are so lovely. And yes on the plastic problem! A few folks in the comments have tried sunscreens from brands with paper or tin packaging if you’d like to investigate!
My fair skinned blue eyed baby boy needs sunglasses as well. I love https://www.roshambobaby.com/ because they are truly indestructible. I’ve been able to pass down smaller pairs to friends with young babies.
Also I was remarking the other day how pleasant my recent beach day was and I realized it was because I did the hat + rash guard + mineral sunscreen route with a great umbrella. Why didn’t I listen to my mother sooner? ; )
I’ve really liked Babo Naturals on my son since he was a baby. They make a spray version now and it’s great!
Thank you, Erin! I’m on the hunt for a really good low- or zero-waste sunscreen. I’ll check out some of the options mentioned by commenters above, but I’d love to hear your experience with any zero-waste brands, if you’ve tried them.
I’m from Spain, a country that gets a huge amount of sun light hours. Since I was very little I was instilled a sense of awareness about how dangerous it can be. Nothing alarming but just making sure that your head, face and chest are protected at all times. Sunglasses were also important, as your eyes can be damaged too!
Unfortunately, that Supergoop sunscreen has Octinoxate in it which also kills coral reefs. 🙁 I’ve been using Badger, somewhat reluctantly since it’s so sticky and in a plastic tube so I’m excited to try some of the plastic free options listed here. I did email Badger about the plastic and they are working on it. They also said that the body of tube is recyclable if you cut off the top with scissors so for anyone else out there wondering what to do with the tube when you’re done! Today we’re having our own special pacific northwest version of sun protection: cloud cover!
Hey Tamara: Much of Supergoop does indeed have both Octinoxate and Avobenxone, but not the new formulation that I’m writing about here. It uses Zinc-Oxide and Titanium Dioxide to protect against the sun. I’ve found Badger to be so hopelessly sticky, but yes to cutting off the body of the tube (depending on local recycling, of course).
Oh, it was the formulation you linked to that contained the octinoxate. Maybe I missing something?
I think you might be looking at the ingredients for the basic Supergoop formula. All of the new Sunny Screen sunscreens that I link to above—spray, stick, and lotion—do not use octinoxate.
I have an 18-month old, and since he was able to wear sunscreen, I’ve been pretty fanatical about wearing sunscreen: in winter, in rain; if we’re outside and skin is showing, it’s covered in sunscreen. When I was pregnant my husband and I switched to zinc oxide-based sunscreens; I used Alba for awhile, but once our son was born we all just switched to Babyganics. Sun hat always (although we’ve lost a few as they’ve been flung out of the stroller). I need to be better about wearing my own hat, too.
Let’s talk adult hat options! I’m in need of a refresh but the one I have is so packing friendly, I’m hesitant to look. Would love some updated options!
James and I both have Brookes Boswell hats in adult sizes!
Blue Lizard Sensitive all the way. (And also of course hats, long sleeve rash guards, shorts, and shade for when you need it.) It leaves perhaps a slight white sheen but when you’re quite pale and aiming to stay that way (vs red) it’s hardly noticeable.
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