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?
This post includes affiliate links. Reading My Tea Leaves might earn a small commission on the goods purchased through those links.