We are deep into summer now, which typically correlates to ample pool and/or beach time with the kiddos and LOTS of sunscreen. We love summer and have been spending as much time as possible outside – in the garden, going to the pool, hiking, frolicking at the beach, or just playing outdoors.

We generously slather sunscreen onto our kids’ sensitive skin with the intent of protecting it from the sun. One would think that it would be as easy as walking into a store and buying a sunscreen marketed specifically for kids and that these products are seemingly safe. Alas, we live in a day and age where food products marketed to kids are filled with high fructose corn syrup and artificial food coloring, and sunscreens marketed for kids are laden with carcinogenic chemicals. The onus falls on us, as parents, to do the CIA-like detective work and make our own educated choices about what we are feeding our kids and what products we are using on their bodies during a critical time of development for their brain and organs.

Given that skin is our largest organ and that it acts as a giant sponge to any products we apply to it, it is a good practice to avoid putting chemicals on our body that will subsequently be absorbed into our bloodstream. In your quest to protect skin from the sun, arm yourself with the knowledge of how to spot lurking toxic chemicals, which unfortunately are found in most conventional sunscreens; many of which are household names such as the ubiquitous Water Babies or Coppertone Kids Spray, both of which fall into the Hall of Shame for safe sunscreens.

There are a few ingredients to look out for and once you know what to look for, it becomes easier to navigate the world of sunscreen.

Always read the ingredient list on your sunscreen and scan directly to the “Active Ingredient List”.

The Quick & Easy on What to Avoid:


This is a synthetic chemical that is also a hormone disruptor (causes developmental and reproductive toxicity). It has been linked to cancer in some laboratory studies and it creates free radicals when exposed to the sun, which are harmful. It should 100% be avoided in sunscreen for kids. It is found in Waterbabies sunscreen, Coppertone for Kids Spray, and many more.

Retinyl Palmitate  (or Vitamin A)

This form of Vitamin A is supposed to have anti-aging effects…when used AS A NIGHT CREAM. But, when it is exposed to the sun, it may speed up the development of skin tumors and lesions, according to government studies. What in the world is this “inactive ingredient” doing in sunscreens intended for use in the sun and for kids? Good question. Almost one in four of the SPF-rated sunscreens, makeups and moisturizers in this year’s guide contains retinyl palmitate. 1

Spray Sunscreens

What a heartbreaker that these sprays pose serious inhalation risks, because they are SO EASY TO APPLY…efficient & easy to put on squirmy children. Even though the Food and Drug Administration expressed concern in 2011 about the safety and efficacy of spray sunscreens, companies continue to turn them out. One in every four beach and sport products in our 2013 sunscreen report are sprays. They’re found in products such as:

CVS Sheer Mist Sunscreen, SPF 70
Coppertone Sport Pro Series Clear Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 50
Banana Boat Sport Performance CoolZone Continuous Spray Sunscreen, SPF 30


Remember super neon zinc oxide noses from the 70s? With the advent of nanoparticles, sunscreens can now be far less white.   They go on more clearly due to their ability to pass through the skin more easily because of their incredibly small particle size. There is a concern that nano titanium dioxide/zinc oxide particles have higher photo-reactivity than coarser particles and may generate free radicals that can cause cell damage. NANO zinc or titanium should be avoided. 

For more on “What Not to Bring on Vacation, see Environmental Working Group’s full guide. 


There is only one active ingredient you need to look for: Non-Nano Zinc Oxide (we recommend skipping titanium dioxide as the jury is still out on this chemical). There also can be all sorts of beneficial “inactive ingredients” such as moisturizers, organic beeswax, essential oils, cocoa butter, etc.


GREEN BABIES 20% non-nano zinc oxide with hydrating pomegranate oil.

BURN OUT KIDS SPF 30 18.6% non-nano zinc oxide. Water resistant for 40 minutes and rich in antioxidants.

BABO BOTANICALS 30 SPF CLEAR ZINC 22.5% non-nano zinc oxide and smells like green apples (especially great due to the higher % of zinc oxide)

BADGER KIDS BROAD SPECTRUM SPF 30 This sunscreen smells like an orange creamsicle! The downside of this sunscreen is that it only has 12% non-nano uncoated zinc oxide. The other options listed above have a higher percentage of zinc oxide.

For more safe sunscreen options, please SafeMama Safer Sunscreen Cheat Sheet. It is incredibly informative and Kathy put a lot of effort into testing the efficacy and safety of each product listed.

Lastly, the most important way to stay safe in the sun is to opt for UV sun protective clothing and hats, try to stay in the shade when possible, and to avoid peak sun hours between the hours of 12pm and 3pm when UV rays are most intense. It is recommended to keep children 6 months and younger completely out of the sun. Do not apply sunscreen as they have much thinner skin than older children and adults; and it absorbs the active chemical ingredients in sunscreen. Additionally, infants have a high surface-area to body-weight ratio compared to older children and adults. Both these factors mean that an infant’s exposure to the chemicals in sunscreens is much greater, increasing the risk of allergic reaction or inflammation. 2

We hope this helps you navigate the misleading world of sunscreen, and that our short-list provides a quick and safe way to get to the beach. Have a safe and healthy summer!


What Not to Bring on Vacation EWG’s 2013 Guide 

Safe Mama Sunscreen Cheat Sheet 

Image credit: citalliance / 123RF Stock Photo

Related post: Less Chlorine Absorption in Public Pools