The key to nature based education is to get your kids out into nature, early and often. Sunburn can be rough on fair skinned babies and toddlers, but some sunscreens can contain some pretty scary ingredients.
As a parent, you’ve been told that sunblock is important to protect against skin cancer in the long term. In the short term, sun burns can be painful for little ones and are no fun for anyone. On the other hand, sunscreens can contain some pretty toxic ingredients. Even name brands marketed at kids can be harmful to their long term health.
An evaluation of Banana Boat Kids Spray on Sunblock, for example, found that just about every ingredient was in some way toxic. This included known cancer causing agents, developmental and reproductive toxicity, endocrine disrupters, toxins that persist and bioaccumulate, and chemicals known to cause changes to skin on a cellular level. Pretty heavy stuff.
How do you protect your kids without exposing them to harmful ingredients?
Babies 0 to 6 Months Old
The mayo clinic recommends only using sunblock on infants and toddlers older than 6 months. Before 6 months, a babies skin chemistry is different, and they’re at a higher risk to absorb the sunblock into their tiny sensitive bodies. Before 6 months, it’s best to avoid sunblock and just keep your littles out of direct sunlight. When they’re that young most babies are pretty immobile and it’s easier to keep them in the shade or covered with lose fitting clothing and a broad sun hat.
Once your child is 6 months old, apply a safe sunblock without toxic ingredients liberally every 2 hours. Use a type that’s water resistant because even if you’re not intending for your child to get wet they often have other plans.
Avoid sunblocks with built in bug protection. Some sunblocks contain DEET, chemical insect repellant that can irritate skin, affect concentration and have long term effects including brain cell death and behavioral changes. Even natural bug repellants made from essential oils can be rough directly applied to skin of an infant. With repeated reapplication there will be a lot of bug repellant accumulating on tender baby skin. If bug repellant is needed, it’s best to spray an all natural formulation onto their clothing rather than smearing it to be absorbed into skin.
What to Look for in a Non-Toxic Sunblock
Broad Spectrum – Sunblockss labeled “broad spectrum” have good protection from both UVA and UVB rays, which will help prevent sunburn in the short term and skin cancer in the long term.
Active Ingredients – There are a number of active ingredients that can be used in sunblocks to protect the skin and some are known to absorb directly into the skin. Others are more hypoallergenic and float on top of the skin, which is better for tender little ones. Look for sunblock with the active ingredients titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
SPF or “Sun Protection Factor” – While you may think the higher the SPF the better, parents using high SPF sunblocks tend to have a false sense of security about the likelihood of sunburn for their child. The higher the SPF, the less often a parent is likely to reapply, meaning that a child may go from high protection to almost none as sunblock is washed off by water or sweat in the heat of the day. Choose a sunblock with a moderate SPF, around 30, and be sure to reapply regularly.
Best Sunblocks for Babies and Toddlers
Badger Baby Sunscreen Cream – SPF 30
If you don’t have the time and energy to make your own all natural sunscreen, Badger Baby Sunscreen is the next best thing. Made by a New Hampshire based company, Badger sunscreen has completely all natural organic ingredients that should please even the crunchiest of moms. It’s active ingredient is 18.5% non-nano zinc oxide, which is one of the “baby approved” sunblocks that floats above the skin rather than absorbs in. After that, the inactive ingredients are good enough to eat:
Inactive Ingredients: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Beeswax, Jojoba Oil, Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter, Roman Chamomile Essential Oil, Natural Vitamin E, Calendula Extract, and Sea Buckthorn Extract.
Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen – SPF 50+
A bit more water resistant (80 minutes) and a slightly higher spf (20% zinc oxide), Thinkbaby safe sunscreen is a good choice for older more active kids that spend a lot of time in the water. The inactive ingredients are all safe, but don’t quite get the “good enough to eat” label.
Inactive Ingredients: Water, Aloe Leaf Juice, Capric Caprylic Triglycerides, Sorbitan Stearate, Pine Wood Resin, Vegetable Glycerin, Cetyl Dimethicone, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Epsom Salt, Sunflower Oil, Jojoba Oil, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin E, Olive Oil, Raspberry Seed Oil, Cranberry Seed Oil, Hyaluronic Acid, Glucose & Glucose Oxidase & Lactoperoxidase, papaya.
Blue Lizard Baby Sunscreen – Spf 30
For longer lasting sun protection, try blue lizard baby sunscreen. The labeling says it can last 4 hours between applications, and the ingredients are all non-toxic to your little ones. Again, not quite good enough to eat, but it will protect baby and toddler skin from sunburn for a long time, which can be key when little ones wont hold still while you reapply sunscreen every few hours. Active ingredients are a mix of the two baby safe options, 10% Zinc Oxide and 5% Titanium Dioxide.
Inactive Ingredients: Water, Ethylhexyl palmitate, C23-C15 Alkyl Benzoate, Ethylhexyl stearate, Polyglyceryl-4 isostearate, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, Hexyl laurate, Propylene Glycol, Cetyl Dimethicone Trimethylated Silica/Dimethicone, Octododecyl/Neopentanoate VP/hexadecane copolymer, Methyl Glucose Dioleate, PEG-7 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Sorbitol Oleate, Hydrogenated Castor Oil Beeswax and Stearic Acid, Cetyl Dimethicone, Methylparaben Propylparaben, Ethylparaben, Disodium EDTA Diazolidinyl Urea, Tocopheryl Acetate
Other Ways to Protect Your Kids from the Sun
Better than sunblock, sun shades provide protection from sunburn and also give your kids a place to rest and nap after a few hours of high energy play. After exhaustive research, we chose the Pacific Breeze Easy Up Beach Tent. Go with the XL version if you want to be able to fit in there with your little ones. Even after seeing 1,200 five star reviews on amazon, I was still skeptical that this thing sets up and comes down in under 3 minutes. Actually, believe it or not, I was able to put it up and take it down in less. On the first try. With a 2 year old “helping.” Very user friendly, light and easy setup and take down.