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Everything you ever wanted to know about sunscreen for babies, kids, and adults

A warning: you’re going to see the word “sunscreen” so many times in this blog post that after a while it won’t feel like a real word anymore. But we promise it will be worth it, because when you’re done reading this post, you’re going to be a sun safety expert!

But first, let’s get some of the vocabulary out of the way. “SPF” means sun protection factor – that is, how long it will be effective on the skin. If you burn without sunscreen in 10 minutes, SPF 15 will give you 15x the protection against a sunburn (so, 150 minutes of not swimming, sweating, or moving of any sort at all, etc). Ideally, the higher the SPF, the more protection you get. But SPF does not automatically cover UVA/UVB, “ultraviolet A” or “ultraviolet B” rays – the two forms of potentially damaging radiation from the sun. These rays are far more likely to cause invisible, but permanent damage.

It is recommended on most sunscreens to consult your doctor before using it on a child under 6 months because their delicate skin can absorb chemicals more easily than adult skin. However, if sun exposure is unavoidable and sun protectant clothes + sun hat + sunglasses are not covering everything, a mineral-based sunblock is recommended for exposed areas. You should always reapply sunscreen after 2 hours, and/or every time you towel off.

There are two main ingredients used in sunscreen for children (or those with sensitive skin) that have been proven to adequately block UVA/UVB: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These two ingredients are naturally derived from minerals used to scatter the UV rays, but are not absorbed into the skin.

These mineral ingredients act as a “physical block” against the harmful rays. Because they do not need to be absorbed, they work immediately upon application (although all sunscreen product packaging suggests applying 15 minutes before sun exposure). Please note that there is some controversy over the use of “sunblock” versus “sunscreen” – the word “block” gives some consumers a false sense of what the product does, so the use of the word “sunscreen” is preferred to describe all skin protectant lotions despite what ingredients are used.

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UVA/UVB rays come to us in different wave lengths. While ingredients may be used to block them, they may not block all the different wave lengths. Case in point, titanium dioxide blocks UVB + short wave UVA, while zinc oxide blocks UVA/UVB, in both short and long wave form. This means that titanium dioxide + zinc oxide is great! It will cover what you need. Zinc oxide is fantastic by itself, but the titanium oxide alone may leave you with wanting more from your sunscreen, especially when you’re using it to protect your little one.

So why doesn’t every sunscreen company use these ingredients when making sunscreen? More minerals are needed to make SPF 30, vs the smaller amount of chemicals used to make a standard sunscreen (think Coppertone), which makes it cost more to produce. Plus, both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are known for making skin look white and chalky. While all the sunscreens that Magic Beans carries say they are “non-whitening,” we have found all of them to be a little whitening (which does make it easier to see where you have or have not applied it). The whiteness, however, does usually disappear shortly after application; results can depend on your skin type, so it’s worth trying out a few different products to see which ones work best for you.

With all of that said, let’s talk about some of the sunscreen products we offer here at Magic Beans.

mustela-broad-spectrum-spf-50-sunscreen-stickMustela is one of our most popular skin care brands – they’ve been around for over 50 years, and most customers enter our store already knowing who they are and what they do. They offer two types of sunscreen: a lotion and a stick. The Mustela Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ Sunscreen Stick is very handy for putting sunscreen on little faces and is easy to toss in a diaper bag or even your pocket. Mustela offers 50 SPF and a water resistance of up to 40 minutes (this goes for both the lotion and the stick). It has both titanium dioxide (4.9%) and zinc oxide (4.7%). Their sunscreen is safe for babies and kids, although they recommend asking your doctor before you use it on a child under the age of 6 months.

md-moms-baby-silk-babysafe-sunscreen-wipesMD Moms is a newer company, but has been very popular within the Magic Beans community for a few years, especially because of the handy MD Moms Baby Silk Babysafe Sunscreen Towelettes. One of these sunscreen-drenched wipes can supposedly cover a one year old from head to toe. They use both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, with a high quantity of both (8% and 5% respectfully). They are 30 SPF, yet water resistant up to 80 minutes. They also offer their sunscreen in lotion form, giving the same specifications as the towelettes. It is recommended to ask a doctor about using it on babies under 6 months, but the MD Moms website states that you can use it on younger children. The towelettes are scented, though, which might be an issue for babies and kids with sensitive skin.

the-honest-company-sunscreenLast, but not least, we have the Honest Company, founded by actress Jessica Alba. They’re the newest company on our sunscreen roster, but they’ve been a huge hit. More of their sunscreen ingredients are listed as “certified organic” than any other company we carry. They have very recently released a spray form of their sunscreen, but we currently only carry the Honest Company SPF 30 Sunscreen lotion at the moment. It is a 30 SPF with 40 minutes of water resistance. They only use zinc oxide in their lotion, a whopping 20%. Nowhere on the bottle does it say to consult a doctor about using it on babies under 6 months, and their website specifically states that you can use it on babies that young (but it couldn’t hurt to ask your pediatrician anyway).

Of all the sunscreens we use and carry, some are easier to apply than others, while some may protect better than others. Having a higher SPF does not necessarily mean it will cover more UVA/UVB rays, but having a higher percentage of UVA/UVB blockers (in this case, titanium oxide and/or zinc oxide) will. No matter how “water resistant” it may claim to be, always reapply every two hours and every time you towel off. Never forget to sunscreen your lips, eyelids, and the tops of your ears (this is experience talking here, and she has a lot to say!).

Sunscreen towelettes and sticks are definitely the easiest to use, which can be essential for getting squirmy baby faces, but some lotions may have a better chance of protecting their skin if used properly. I know plenty of parents who use a lotion for their baby’s body and towelettes / sticks for their face, as they find that works best for them. Find what works best for you and your kiddos because ANY mineral based sunscreen is going to protect your kids (and yourself) better than NOT using a sunscreen.

And don’t forget the rest of the basics of sun safety: it’s recommended to stay out of the sun between 10am and 2pm. Wear long sleeves and pants, sun hats, and sunglasses to protect you and your little ones from those harmful UV rays. Seek shade, but don’t trust that clouds will protect you adequately – they don’t block UV rays, so you can still get zapped. UV also reflects off of surfaces like water, concrete, and even glass.

So play it smart! Slather on some sunscreen, get the kids into some cute hats and teeny sunglasses, and go out and play (and then slather on more sunscreen and then slather on even more and then wait a little bit and slather on some more)!

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