Finding the Right Sunscreen to Help Kids Avoid More Than Just a Burn

Have you ever tried to smear sunscreen on a squirming child’s face? Perhaps you’ve chased your kid down a beach with a sunscreen bottle, only to manage a quick streak of white lotion across a shoulder. But even though putting sunscreen on a child can feel like a calculated negotiation or just a flat out foot race, doing whatever it takes to avoid a painful sunburn this summer should be a top priority. However, you might wonder what’s going on with all the talk about non-toxic and mineral sunscreens. 

Finding the right sunscreen for your sensitive skinned little ones can feel like reading a chemistry textbook. To make matters trickier, research suggests that some ingredients in sunscreen may actually harm skin, be linked to hormonal issues and promote certain types of cancers. If you’re asking what sun protection is really the safest bet for you and your child, you’re not the only one. 

Research Suggests

A national research and advocacy organizations, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), researches the toxicity and safety of thousands of personal care products, compiled them in a searchable online database. Their annual sunscreen guide is a go-to resource for best and worst brands with tips on which ingredients to avoid and which ones are safest to slather on skin. 

According to EWG, you should avoid the following ingredients in sunscreen:  

  • Oxybenzone (BP-3)
  • Octinoxate (OMC)
  • Homosalate
  • Octocrylene 
  • Octisalate 
  • Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate)

While these are some of the most common ingredients in sunscreen, new research has shown that long-term exposure may disrupt the endocrine system, leading to abnormalities in sperm and delayed puberty. Vitamin A may speed the development of skin tumors when applied to the skin in the presence of sunlight. 

Local Advice

Here in Ann Arbor, we’re lucky to have The Ecology Center, an organization doing research, advocating policy and education to keep families healthy and safe from harmful products. According to Melissa Cooper Sargent, their Environmental Health Educator, “The safest ingredients are mineral based like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These act as full-spectrum, which block harmful UVA and UVB rays.” She also warns against going above 30 SPF because after that the sunscreen isn’t more effective. 

If you’re looking for which brands to avoid and which ones are mineral based, check out EWG’s best and worst sunscreen ratings. They suggest brands like Kiss My Face Organics and California Baby because of their mineral components, and call out familiar brands, like Coppertone and Banana Boat, to avoid because they contain oxybenzone. 

Having a little fun in the sun this summer is essential to keep your kids healthy. Covering up with a hat and finding shade is the best thing you can do when the sun gets hot. And when you do need to apply sunscreen on your child, find a brand you trust.

Find a full list of EWG’s best and worst suncreens at