Which sunscreen is best for kids?

Kinderling News & Features

Image credit: bryan

Sunscreen, suncream, sunblock… whatever you call it, we need to use it for our kids’ skin (despite the fact they often hate it!).

But is SPF 50+ the best choice? Are all options waterproof? And which ones are healthiest?

Know what you’re protecting against

Most of us would be aware that we need to protect our skin against UV rays. But there’s more to the story than that. Naturopath and director of Studio You, Emma Sutherland, explains there’s actually a distinction within UV rays, UVB and UVA.

“There’s two different UV rays that we really want to avoid. First of all, we’ve got UVB, and they’re the ones we associate with sunscreen that cause the reddening of the skin,” Emma says. “Between ten and three [is the peak time] for those kinds of rays.”

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“Then we’ve got UVA. Now that penetrates deeper into the skin and that’s present all day long. The problem with the UVA is, that’s the one that increases our risk of melanoma.”

We’re exposed to sunlight, and therefore different degrees of UVA and UVB, all day long. So, while we should definitely avoid the sun in the middle of the day, remember that our exposure is constant.

Consistency, not the quantity, is key

When you pop into the supermarket, it’s easy to think that SPF 50+ is the best option. Bigger number equals better protection, right? Not necessarily, in Emma’s opinion.

“Research shows that when we use a 50+, we tend to become lax on other sun protection factors. And the truth of the matter is, a 50+ is not going to protect you for twice as long as a 30+. It just simple isn’t the case.”

According to Cancer Council Australia, the higher number SPF is only marginally better for protection. SPF50+ protects from 98% of UVB radiation, while SPF30+ blocks out 96.7%.

 “I would say stay away from the 50+ and use the 30+, and reapply frequently,” Emma recommends. “If you’re in and out of the water, I would apply every time you come out of the water. If you’re in the park, having a picnic, every hour and a half to two hours.”

Which sunscreen is best?

There are many options around, but Emma says to pause before grabbing the bottle that’s closest or cheapest.

“Look at how the sunscreen is actually protecting our skin. What chemical is in the sunscreen that gives that protection?” she says.

It is is also important to be aware of is the active chemical ingredients in the sunscreen. Don't read the word chemical and think it's bad for you, however. It's more that we need to be aware of which are the good and bad chemicals. The less-friendly chemical types active in sunscreen include Benzophenone and PABAs (para-aminobenzoic acids).

Emma prefers the zinc oxide-based options, with titanium dioxide-based ones as a second choice. These are the more natural options on the market. While harder to find, Emma suggests that once you have a good one, you can stock up to use properly and carefully.

“We want to be thinking bigger picture as well. The chemicals that are used in some sunscreens, when they wash off, particularly when we’re at the beach, they do damage the coral reefs as well. They tend to have a bleaching impact,” Emma warns.

Research shows that 6000 – 14000 tonnes of sunscreen wash off into the oceans every year. So when looking at damage to our environment, it’s another reason to use zinc-based ones as they don’t have that effect.

Emma’s favourites? Little Urchin is her recommendation for kids, as it’s easy to put on themselves. Wotnot is great, but has a thicker consistency, so it might not be so good for littlies. And Ecotan also has some great options for kids too!