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January 12, 2022

Five things to look for in kids sunscreen - Two young boys hold hands as they run towards the ocean

As adults, hopefully we’ve learnt a thing or two about protecting ourselves from the sun’s UV rays. But what about when it comes to our little ones — are their sun protection needs different? How do we keep children safe from sun damage? And what should we look for in kids’ sunscreen?

While the needs of kids differ slightly from adults', the good news is that we can all use the same sunscreen (provided it ticks the following boxes!).

Of course, the primary defence against sunburn in kids is keeping bubs in the shade —especially during the middle of the day — protecting them with broad-brimmed or Legionnaire’s hats and covering their limbs with loose-fitting clothing. Experts do not recommend applying sunscreen to children under six months of age, and babies under 12 months should be kept out of direct sunlight when the UV rating is above 3.

Things to look for in kids sunscreen - a toddler reaches for a tub of sunscreen with trees in the background
  • Natural and non-toxic

Physical sunscreens are far better for children (and all of us, actually) because they work by creating a barrier that reflects and absorbs UV rays — as opposed to using chemicals that are absorbed by our skin. No one wants nasty chemicals seeping through their kid’s epidermis! 

Sunscreens containing the natural mineral zinc oxide are recommended for children. Look for products with non-nanosized zinc oxide, as nanosized particles are small enough to be absorbed through the skin. Sunscreens with oxybenzone in them are not recommended for children (or adults!) because oxybenzone is known to cause a raft of health issues, including hormone disruption. Also, the ocean will thank you for choosing reef-safe non-nanosized zinc over products that contain nanosized zinc, oxybenzone or any of the other ingredients on the ever-growing HEL list of chemicals that damage our waterways and marine life. 

Things to look for in kids sunscreen - a young boy wearing a wetsuit smiles at the camera while crouching beside a rock pool holding a tin of SunButter sunscreen
  • High SPF and broad spectrum

Bless their cotton socks and soft downy heads! Children, obviously, have especially delicate skin that’s often more susceptible to burning than adults’, and the sunburn we sustain as kids can set us up for skin damage (including skin cancers) later in life. 

Your best bet is to use an SPF50 sunscreen. The SPF (or Sun Protection Factor) indicates how long a person can stay in the sun without getting burnt compared to how long it would take to get burnt without that sunscreen. SPF30, for example, allows you to stay in the sun 30 times longer than you would be able to without any sunscreen. The thing is that there’s no magic number here: while one day you might burn in 15 minutes of midday sun, it might take an hour of sun exposure to earn yourself a sunburn at 10am. Using SPF50 sunscreen theoretically means you can be exposed to UV rays for 50 times longer. 

We want to be offering kids the maximum protection, which is SPF50 (anything above SPF50 doesn’t seem to offer much more effectiveness). Longer-lasting sun protection also won’t need to be applied as frequently, which is a massive bonus with squirmy, busy kids who just want to keep playing!  

Broad spectrum is also super important here. Some sunscreens will only protect against UVB rays (UVB is the main sunburn culprit) without protecting against UVA rays (which also contribute to skin damage and premature ageing). Enter zinc oxide, which is a broad spectrum UVA and UVB mineral blocker!

Things to look for in kids sunscreen - a women applies sunscreen to a small toddler

  • Spreadable and easy to access

Kids generally do not like sitting still, and applying sunscreen to wriggly little people is really no fun for anyone. Many zinc oxide sunscreens are great from a natural ingredients perspective, but almost require a spatula to apply (other sunscreens can be easy to apply but full of nasty ingredients!). When it comes to sunscreen, we want something that ticks all the boxes while still being a formula that we can slip, slop and slap on with relative ease.

Some sunscreens — like, ahem, SunButter — come with natural spreadability helpers such as coconut oil and Vitamin E that have the added bonus of keeping skin supple and moisturised. We also make SunButter in an aluminium tin so you can dive in and scoop out however much buttery goodness you need without messing around squeezing tubes. Just remember to clean the thread of the tin regularly, store the tin upright and, like all sunscreens, keep under 30 degrees Celsius.  

Things to look for in kids sunscreen - a toddler hands a tin of sunscreen to another toddler who is sitting on grass
  • Fragrance free; good for sensitive skin and eyes

Fragrances are lovely! We’re talking the scent of coffee, fresh flowers; the first whiff of the ocean while clambering out of the car on holiday. Fragrance in the cosmetics world, though, can be a no-no for sensitive skin. Synthetic fragrances can also worsen respiratory issues, trigger headaches and cause general irritation.

One of the most common questions we’re asked at SunButter is whether our sunscreen is fragrance-free and suitable for sensitive skin. The answer is: You betcha! Because we only use gentle, natural ingredients, our sunscreen is ideal for all ages and skin types. This is great news for babies and kids and anyone whose skin can be prone to irritation. Of course, it’s always prudent to do a patch test before using any product.   

Natural sunscreens also won’t sting eyes, which is important for little or big kids who like to splash around in waves and water (or tend to rub their eyes!).

Things to look for in kids sunscreen - two children crouch beside a rock pool. One is holding a tin of SunButter sunscreen

  • Water resistant

It’s not enough for sunscreen to be high SPF and broad spectrum. Considering so much of summertime fun is spent at the beach, by the pool, running through sprinklers or racing around sweating up a storm, kids’ sunscreen needs to be water resistant. This means it won’t just slide off at first contact with water. It’s always a good idea, however, to re-apply after sweating or being in the water, as even the most water-resistant sunscreen will be less effective after getting wet.

Remember, folks: sunscreen only works if used correctly. Make sure you apply liberally, re-apply every two hours and avoid using if past the expiry date.

Happy days!

Things to look for in kids sunscreen - a tin of SunButter reef safe sunscreen