The 4 Best Sunscreen Sticks For Kids
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No kid likes putting on sunscreen, so anything that makes the process easier is a win. That’s where sunscreen in a stick formula comes in. The best sunscreen sticks for kids are mineral-based with at least SPF 30 for blocking the sun’s rays, according to Noreen Galaria, MD FAAD, a board-certified adult and pediatric dermatologist at Galaria Plastic Surgery & Dermatology.
Sunscreen Types, Decoded
There are generally two categories of sunscreen: physical (aka mineral) and chemical. “For children I always recommend a mineral sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide,” Dr. Galaria says. “I prefer these over chemical sunscreen because they are gentler on children’s skin and also they are less likely to be absorbed.”
But if you’re not quite sure what makes a physical sunscreen different from a chemical one, here’s what you need to know. Physical sunscreens work like a shield to deflect UVA and UVB rays for broad-spectrum protection; this type offers protection faster after application and is less likely to irritate sensitive skin. They have been known to leave a white cast, especially on darker skin tones, but today’s formulas have come a long way in that department. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, have thinner formulas that work by absorbing into the skin. Although they also block UV rays, they usually contain more ingredients that may cause irritation. Some chemical sunscreens can contain oxybenzone, which have been linked to endocrine disruption, and also avobenzone; these sunscreen ingredients can harm marine life and coral reefs.
The SPF & Ingredients To Look For
You’ll find physical sunscreens with a range of zinc oxide percentages, but dosage counts. “Look for at least 10% zinc oxide under active ingredients on the stick’s label, Dr. Galaria says. “Titanium dioxide would provide incomplete protection on its own, but added on to a zinc formula it’s great for being gentle on sensitive skin and more ‘invisible’ after application.”
As for SPF, Dr. Galaria recommends SPF 30. “A sunscreen can be higher than this but don’t feel like you have to pay more for the higher SPF. It’s not giving kids that much more protection,” she says. Keep in mind that babies younger that six months old should not use sunscreen — protective clothing is recommended instead in part because of their thinner skin, Dr. Galaria says.
With all this in mind, here are the best sunscreen sticks for kids that effectively protect against the sun and are convenient to always have on hand.
1. The Overall Best Sunscreen Stick For Kids
This popular sunscreen stick for kids is a mineral formula that provides broad-spectrum protection with 20% zinc oxide. The sunscreen applies and absorbs without any greasy feeling, and it’s free of parabens, phthalates, and fragrance. It’s a consistently highly rated pick with a 4.7-star rating and over 1,800 reviews on Amazon; plus, this brand has been top-rated by the Environmental Working Group since 2010.
The SPF 30 sunscreen is water-resistant for 80 minutes. Your kid will appreciate that it doesn’t smell like a traditional sunscreen and instead just has a light papaya scent, plus it contains soothing shea butter and aloe. This brand was also the first sunscreen to pass Whole Foods’s premium care requirement, according to the manufacturer.
A helpful review: “My kids love this stuff and will request this every morning. They love the scent and say it is easy to blend in. We have tried so many zinc sunscreens in the past month and this is the clear winner.”
2. A Sunscreen Stick With SPF 50+ & A Kid-Friendly Label
This sunscreen stick with a familiar friendly face has a higher SPF 50+, but you won’t pay through the roof for it and it’s a mineral formula with broad-spectrum protection. Blue Lizard is a top brand recommended by pediatricians, according to the manufacturer, and this vegan sunscreen is free of parabens, fragrances, and potentially irritating dyes.
The 20% zinc oxide sunscreen resists water and sweat for 80 minutes. This much-loved pick, with over 1,400 reviews, will also appeal to toddlers and preschoolers with Cookie Monster’s smiling face on the label.
A helpful review: “This is the best sunscreen ever for fair skin. Hands-down. I have fair skin and my son is redheaded and blue eyes. We are hyper sensitive to the sun and can burn at a moments notice. This is the only sunscreen I know of that gives us Fort Knox protection. Ever since I started using this on my son he has never had a sunburn.”
3. An Invisible Sunscreen Stick That Teens Will Love
Older kids may become more self-conscious about the white residue that some mineral sunscreens leave behind — and that’s just one of the reasons why this sunscreen stick, with broad spectrum SPF 50+ and vitamin E, receives high marks. Dr. Galaria says this is an especially ideal choice for teens who may avoid sunscreen because of the way it feels and looks. “I recommend this to my teenage patients who plays sports for targeted treatment of the nose and shoulders,” Dr. Galaria says.
This dermatologist-recommended brand contains 21.6% zinc oxide and is free of fragrances, parabens, and dyes, making it a fantastic choice for sensitive skin. It stays water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and is considered a non-greasy formula with “dry touch” technology that manages to protect skin without coating it in white film.
A helpful review: “I live in Florida where its humid as Hell. I love this SFP stick from Neutrogena. The percentage of zinc will surely block all UV rays and it doesn't leave a huge white cast and isn't drying. There's no fragrance and I can put it up my eyelids and over my lips. Love it.”
4. The Sunscreen Stick With Ceramides For Hassle-Free Application & Hydration
If your kid hates the sunscreen application process, this mineral sunscreen stick goes on smoother than some zinc sunscreens so you can spend less time applying and more time out in the sun. That’s in part because it contains 4.7% zinc oxide, which is less than the 10% Dr. Galaria recommends, and 6% titanium dioxide, but overall the combination is still a good chemical-free choice for sun protection, Dr. Galaria confirms. The addition of three ceramides that restore and maintain your skin’s protective barrier and hydrating hyaluronic acid also contribute to its ability to go on smoothly.
This broad-spectrum formula, from a skincare brand consistently recommended by dermatologists, is fragrance-free and recommended for daily use even on sensitive skin. With SPF 50, this sunscreen is water-resistant for 40 minutes.
A helpful review: “Love this. I've tried many other ‘stick’ style sunscreens for applying to my toddler's face. Many of them were gritty or so hard that they tugged at her skin as I tried to apply them. This one, however, goes on smooth with no tugging and is very effective in its function as a sunscreen.”
Noreen Galaria MD FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist with Galaria Plastic Surgery & Dermatology