When we were kids, painful red shoulders and peeling noses were the mark of a summer holiday well spent. Sunburn was a badge of honour.
Oops. We now know that getting sunburnt just once as a child can give you skin cancer as an adult. The sun’s ultraviolet rays can burn infant skin in minutes, even on an overcast September day in the park.
Babies under six months shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight at all, but there are times you can’t avoid it. Shade and clothes are the first lines of defence, but a good sunscreen is a vital part of your childcare routine. In time, slapping on the SPF should become as much a part of your kids’ daily life as brushing their teeth.
Here, we offer a quick buyers’ guide, then we reveal our top ten sun-protection products for your baby.
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How to choose the best sunscreen for your baby
Can you bust all this jargon for me, please?
SPF = sun protection factor. The higher the number, the greater the protection against UVB radiation.
SPF50+ = the highest you can get in the UK. It offers 98% UVB protection.
SPF30 = the lowest recommended for babies – but it delivers still 97% UVB protection.
UVB = ultraviolet B, the type that causes sunburn and is protected by SPF.
UVA = ultraviolet A, the type that causes ageing. The star rating you see on some sunscreen bottles indicates UVA protection, of which the maximum is five.
Broad spectrum = UVB and UVA protection. All the products in our line-up offer broad spectrum protection with SPF30 and higher.
So should I simply buy the highest SPF I can find?
Yes and no. High SPF is non-negotiable for babies. It must be SPF30 or higher. But SPF30 tends to be easier to apply and absorb than SPF50, and slightly less loaded with active ingredients.
What’s more important than 30 vs 50 is that you apply plenty of it, and regularly. And remember, even SPF50+ isn’t a complete sunblock.
Bottom line from the British Association of Dermatologists: “Keep babies and young children out of direct sunlight. Sunscreens are not an alternative to clothing and shade – they offer additional protection.”
I’m worried about chemicals – what is sunscreen made from?
There are two broad categories: chemical sunscreens, and physical (mineral) sunblocks. Each type has pros and cons for baby.
1. Chemical sunscreen
Active ingredients: UV (ultraviolet)-absorbing chemicals such as avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone.
The science bit: The chemicals absorb into the skin then soak up UV rays and convert them into heat, which is then released from the body.
Pros: Price and convenience. Chemical sunscreens tend to be cheaper, thinner and more quickly absorbed, making them easier to apply to delicate infant skin. They also tend to be more moisturising.
Cons: Chemical sunscreens need 20 minutes to soak in before you can head out. Many are environmentally harmful, particularly to marine life. They’re also more comedogenic than mineral sunblocks – in other words, they clog pores.
2. Mineral sunscreen
Active ingredients: UV-blocking minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
The science bit: They reflect UV rays away. They’re literally sunblocks.
Pros: Mineral sunblocks often come in stick formats that are easy to apply and carry around. They’re far more environmentally friendly than chemical sunscreens, and less comedogenic.
Cons: More expensive, and sometimes too thick and heavy to be welcomed by your wriggly baby or toddler. Heavy high-SPF mineral creams can also trigger skin dryness and even eczema.
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The best sunscreen for babies 2021
1. Childs Farm SPF50+ Roll-on Sun Lotion: Best all-round sun cream for babies
Price: From £10 | Buy now from Boots
Our top choice offers the best of all worlds. As well as being super-high SPF it’s moisturising, quickly absorbed and very easy to apply thanks to the ingenious roll-on format that’s safe for babies and fun for older kids.
Childs Farm’s lotion is a chemical sunscreen but the ingredients are as environmentally-friendly as possible. There are no artificial colours, parabens or SLSs (sodium laureth sulfate, effectively detergent), and the hypoallergenic formula is specially designed for babies’ sensitive skin.
Rarely for a chemical sunscreen, this one is approved by the Vegan Society and Cruelty Free International. It’s also recommended by dermatologists and paediatricians for babies, children prone to eczema and anyone with sensitive skin.
Key specs – SPF: 50+; UVA rating: Not given; Sunscreen type: Chemical; Application type: Roll-on lotion; Volume: 70ml; Water resistant: Yes
Buy now from Boots
2. Green People Organic Children sun lotion SPF30: Best chemical-free sun cream for babies (and grown-ups)
Price: £21 | Buy now from Green People
This fragrance-free, 84% organic min