11 of the best sunscreens for babies, toddlers and children
by Amy Burns
While all of us welcome warmer weather, if the sun has got his hat on then it’s time to start reaching for your own hat, t-shirt and sunscreen.
Everyone is at risk of skin damage from the sun but children are particularly vulnerable due to their sensitive skin - so it’s important to ensure they are wearing a suitable sunscreen, even when it might not seem that hot.
NHS guidelines advise that babies under six months should be kept out of direct strong sunlight at all times.
Sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer and, contrary to popular belief, you can burn in the UK even when it's cloudy.
Everyone - adults included - should wear a sunscreen of at least factor 15 between March and October and should spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm, when the sun is at its hottest.
UVA and UVB protection
When buying a sunscreen, look for at least four-star UVA protection - this star rating measures the amount of ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) protection. UVA rays can lead to premature ageing. The letters UVA inside a circle is a European marking which means the UVA protection is at least one third of the SPF value and meets EU recommendations.
SPFs are rated on a scale of 2 to 50+ based on the level of protection they offer, with 50+ being the strongest - this is important because UVB radiation burns the top layers of skin.
How much sunscreen should you apply?
Experts say the majority of people do not apply the correct amount of sun cream. NHS and Cancer Research UK guidelines recommend that adults should use two tablespoons if you're covering your entire body while wearing a swimming costume 30 minutes before going out and again just before leaving the house or hotel room.
As children vary so much in size, the “correct” amount is hard to establish but a golf ball-sized dollop should offer enough coverage for most age groups. Make sure all exposed areas - such as ears and faces - are covered and as a general rule, it’s better to apply more than you think they might need.
Graham Hill, managing director of Delph, a vegan sunscreen range prescribed on the NHS, adds: “We have been producing Delph for over 20 years and what most people do not know is that you should be applying the equivalent of six teaspoons of sun cream on an all over body application when wearing a swimming costume. Most people are only applying between 1/3 – 1/2 of the proper amount needed - meaning your family is at risk.”
While most sunscreens are water resistant, you should always reapply after going in the water and top up your application if you’re exposed to the sun for a long period of time. This can be tedious if your kids are in and out of the pool or sea all day on holiday but choosing the right product can speed up the re-application process.
Children may be resistant to being smothered in lotion, so get them into good habits early by teaching them how to do it themselves. Also encourage them to wear hats and sunglasses on hot days and holidays.
It's important to check and abide by your sunscreen's expiration date. Most are designed to last for up to three years but once out of date, they become ineffective.
How we test
Here, we’ve tested a variety of child-friendly sunscreens, many of which are available in a range of different formats to meet changing needs. Roll-ons and mousse applicators proved good for wriggly toddlers, while sprays were efficient for under 10s. Creams are good for the whole family - but remember to look for non-sticky products, especially if children are going to be rolling around on a sandy beach.
Sunscreens are listed in price order
£4.49, SuperdrugBest for: Scent
Key specs - SPF: 30; Volume: 100ml; Protection: UVA and UVB; Water resistant: Yes; Age: From 6 months
First up, this range smells delicious - it’s got a real whiff of tropical holidays about it. But Superdrug has also covered all bases in terms of application with creams, sprays and even a suncare stick included in the range.
The Colour Mix lotion contains coloured beads, which burst on application and rub in as normal without leaving any colour or stains on the skin. It’s a good way to engage with kids and get them excited about putting cream on if they are reluctant to.
£5.99 (price correct at time of publishing), AmazonBest for: Being vegan friendly
Key specs - SPF: 30; Volume: 150ml; Protection: UVA and UVB; Water resistant: Yes; Age: From 6 months
This has a pleasant, low-key smell and was easy to rub in. It’s also very fairly priced and suitable for the whole family - kids included - meaning you don’t have to buy different products for everyone to use.
Delph is a vegan sun care range that is not tested on animals. It’s also prescribed on the NHS for patients with certain skin conditions - for a parent, this is reassuring as it suggests testing is rigorous.
Another plus point is that Delph claims to allow the skin's pores to breath and stops them becoming blocked by sweat, which can lead to prickly heat - something many children suffer from.
£7, Lloyds PharmacyBest for: Allergies/sensitive skin
Key specs - SPF: 50 baby, 30 kids; Volume: 200ml; Protection: UVA and UVB; Water resistant: Yes; Age: From 6 months
These pocket-friendly products are designed with ultra-sensitive skin in mind. Suitable for use on babies and children prone to eczema, it has a slightly chemical smell but it’s not unpleasant.
It’s great value when compared to some of the other sensitive skin products on the market and it rubs in easily and doesn’t feel greasy or heavy - it left even the youngest skin feeling soft and hydrated. The baby product comes in the higher 50+ SPF factor, while the kids’ product is still a reliable 30.
£10, JoJo Maman BébéBest for: Scent-free
Key specs - SPF: 50+; Volume: 50ml; Protection: UVA and UVB; Water resistant: Yes; Age: From 6 months
This was one of our favourite products of those tested. The roll-on applicator was simple to use and made application incredibly easy and efficient - despite the best efforts of a very wriggly tester.
It was one of very few “scent-free” products we tested that genuinely didn’t smell of anything. It was absorbed very quickly by the skin and wasn’t sticky, and didn’t leave smears or marks.
Sunsense makes a family version of the product, which is wetter to touch and takes a bit more effort to rub into the skin. The 50ml roll-on is great for short trips as it meets hand luggage liquid regulations - just remember to pop it in your clear plastic bag for security.
£11.99, BootsBest for: Easy application
Key specs - SPF: 50+; Volume: 125ml; Protection: UVA and UVB; Water resistant: Yes; Age: From 6 months
Childs Farm specialises in hair and skin products for babies and young children, and with its sun care range it’s really thought of everything. The range includes a spray, a roll-on and creams in either SPF 30 or 50+, so there’s an applicator to suit all ages and preferences.
The roll-on is amazing for toddlers as it’s easy to apply despite all the wriggling, while the spray is best for older children. It’s also quick to use as you can cover a big surface area with just a couple of squirts or swipes. It’s easily absorbed but does smell a little chemically, despite claiming to be scent-free.
£13.40, Love LulaBest for: Cruelty-free
Key specs - SPF: 30; Volume: 90ml; Protection: UVA and UVB; Water resistant: Yes; Age: From 6 months
This product is made from 95 per cent organic material. It’s different to the other creams in that it's darker in colour - a sort of beige - and has an unusual texture. It also feels a bit gritty against the skin and takes a while to rub in.
The smell is a little chemically - it feels like a medical cream application rather than a sunscreen. However, it’s cruelty-free and never tested on animals, and was created specifically for kids and babies without any harmful ingredients, so offers a lot of peace of mind.
It’s good for sensitive skin, too, as it doesn’t dry it out. However, the colour - not dissimilar to foundation - did leaves marks on clothing.
£13.97 (price correct at time of publishing), AmazonBest for: Newborns
Key specs - SPF: 50+; Volume: 100ml; Protection: UVA and UVB; Water resistant: Yes; Age: From birth
This is a high protection sun lotion that is ideal for very young or very sensitive/intolerant skin. Thanks to the presence of a patented active ingredient extracted from avocados, Mustela sun lotion encourages the skin’s natural barrier and preserves its cells.
It was a lot wetter than most of the products tested, coming out of the tube in almost liquid form. But it doesn’t smell and is absorbed quickly. It’s also suitable for people who suffer from atopic eczema or psoriasis - conditions that cause the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. It is also one of the very few products suitable from birth.
£18.79 (price correct at time of publishing), AmazonBest for: Insect protection
Key specs - SPF: 30; Volume: 150ml; Protection: UVA and UVB; Water resistant: Yes; Age: 2 years +
This is a sunscreen and insect repellent in one, so solves two of the most common holiday problems - sun burn and bug bites.
As a result, it has a very strong odour (as you would expect of an insect repellent) and it takes a bit more effort to rub it in. But it does two important jobs and if you’re going to smother a reluctant small person in sun cream and then battle to do the same with a bug spray, this saves you some hassle at least.
£19, Green PeopleBest for: Eco-friendly packaging
Key specs - SPF: 30; Volume: 150ml; Protection: UVA and UVB; Water resistant: Yes; Age: From 6 months
This high-factor sun cream is suitable for children with sensitive skin and is full of natural ingredients, such as aloe vera, avocado, olive and rosemary. It’s easily absorbed, non-greasy and felt really light against the skin. It’s a great option for anyone with eczema or psoriasis - not just kids.
This product also ticks a lot of boxes for green credentials - the plant-based packaging is fully recyclable, carbon-neutral and farmed on sustainable land. Green People also supports the Marine Conservation Society by donating 30p from each sale to the charity.
£19.95 (price correct at time of publishing), AmazonBest for: All-round application
Key specs - SPF: 30, 50; Volume: 100ml; Protection: UVA and UVB; Water resistant: Yes; Age: From 6 months
Scent free and incredibly easy to apply, it just disappears into the skin without any mess, drips, splodges, stains or stickiness. It’s fun for kids, too - our toddler tester loved the way it disappeared like magic and was happy to be smothered in it as a result.
It doesn’t feel greasy and lets the skin breathe, so pores don’t become clogged. It isn’t the cheapest product on the market but a little bit goes a long way and the ease of application gives you genuine peace of mind that your child’s skin is protected, so it’s worth every penny.
£31, ArbonneBest for: Dry skin
Key specs - SPF: 30; Volume: 177ml; Protection: UVA and UVB; Water resistant: Yes; Age: From 6 months
This is another scent-free product that just about stands up to the claim - it has a very slight, subtle soapy scent. It’s a bit wetter than the Sunsense product (above) and takes a little more time to rub in.
However, we did find that a little of the cream goes a long way - so it’s a good idea to just keep rubbing. This comes in at the higher end of the price scale, so is a bit of an investment, but the 177ml bottle will last a while as you don’t require too much per application.
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