Now that our kids are back in school, we have to rely on the schools or the kids themselves to apply sunscreen before outdoor activities. This is a scary thought. Planning ahead by putting sunscreen in their backpacks, choosing the right sunscreen and educating our children about sunscreen use is a must. Between chemicals, nano-particles, and the right SPF, there is a lot of confusion about which sunscreen to use on a child.
Here's what I tell my patients:
For kids, especially under age 5, I recommend chemical-free sunscreens that list titanium dioxide or zinc oxide (or both) as active ingredients. They're natural and gentle, which is why they're ideal for young or sensitive skin.
Choose at least an SPF of 30 and be sure to apply enough: an ounce for the body, and ½ a teaspoon for the face. (Most people apply ¼ of the required amount so be generous!)
Teach your kids to take advantage of the shade and to remember sun protective clothing and hats, too—that goes for any age. (Did you know that in Australia, school children are required to wear sun protecting hats? Yea Australia!!)
From ages 5 to 15 years old, I prefer the chemical free options, but they take longer to rub in. When you have to rely on your child to apply their own sunscreen, other options may be better. For this reason, I send my kids to school with "chemical" sunscreens that rely on man-made active ingredients like mexoryl, Helioplex, avobenzone or oxybenzone. They spread quickly, so my kids are more likely to use them, and the SPF is often higher. (Use a higher SPF such as SPF 70 when you are not certain that the appropriate amount of sunscreen will be applied by your child). Chemical sunscreens are not perfect. There are studies that show the chemical ingredients find their way into urine, which means the chemicals are being absorbed and processed by the body. We don't know what the downside is, but in a perfect world, the less chemicals in our kids' systems, the better. For this reason, I never use chemical sunscreens in children younger than 5.
There is no question that UV exposure is a cancer risk and that sun protection is going to keep kids healthier over the course of their lives. For kids ages 15 and up, I like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 70 and La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid. The high SPFs help make up for the skimpy amount they'll apply to their skin (most kids don't apply enough to reach the SPF on a label), and that gives me peace of mind when I think about them having loads of fun outdoors with their friends.