Look for a sunscreen with a label that reads “broad spectrum protection ” or that lists “zinc oxide” as the active ingredient. This means it decreases exposure to both UVA and UVB rays, the harmful rays that cause skin cancer.
Choosing a sunscreen of SPF 15 or better is good, but don’t be fooled by a high number. A sunscreen labeled SPF 100 is not 85 times more protective than one labeled SPF 15. Both need to be reapplied frequently, according to the directions on the bottle and both need to be applied liberally to be most effective.
Stick with sunscreens that provide a physical barrier for kids, as opposed to ones that are absorbed into the skin. Look for active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide or the description “mineral sunscreen” to know which to choose.
Finally, check out the Environmental Working Group’s 2014 Guide to Sunscreens to see how your sunscreen is rated for safety and effectiveness.
Reviewed by Dr. Heather Felton, April 2020