Our Guide To Non-Toxic & Safe Sunscreens For Baby, Our Oceans, & You

Avoid sunburns and awful chemicals with a non-toxic baby sunscreen.

The summer is my favorite time of the year. Outings to the beach, family picnics, and just spending time outside and enjoying the weather. It’s blissful.

But unfortunately, while the sun gives us the privilege of enjoying the summer, sun burns are no joke.

If you’re used to using a chemical sunscreen, now is a great time to switch to a safe, mineral based sunscreen that’s not only better for you and your little one, but for our coral reefs as well.

Today we’ll be answering questions like:
  • Why chemical sunscreens are no good.
  • How the chemicals in bad sunscreens are destroying our oceans.
  • What goes into an ideal safe and non-toxic sunscreen.

The problem with chemical sunscreens.

There are two main kinds of sunscreen: chemical (also known as mineral) & physical.

Let’s start with chemical sunscreens (the nasty stuff.)

Chemical sunscreens use chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate. Essentially, these chemicals are absorbed into the skin, where they sit and absorb the UV rays. Even just reading that gives me a kind of cringe feeling.

These chemicals are common skin irritants and the causes of allergic reactions, and have also been linked to endocrine disruption in lab rats. While there are no studies linking this to negative health effects on children, there is definite reason to be concerned.

Why physical sunscreens are better.

Next up we have physical sunscreens which use titanium dioxide & zinc oxide — minerals, hence the alternate name “mineral sunscreens.” These ingredients simply sit on top of the skin and deflect the sun’s rays.

According to the FDA, there’s enough evidence that these sunscreens don’t warrant the same health concerns as chemical sunscreens.

Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients:
  • Zinc oxide: The main active ingredient in mineral suncreens. It provides full-spectrum protection from both UVA & UVB rays.
  • Titanium dioxide: You’ll find this as an additive in some sunscreens. Titanium dioxide doesn’t provide full-spectrum UV protection.

Some facts you should know about physical (mineral) sunscreens:

  • Mineral sunscreens are effective immediately after application. Do you remember the old advice that you should apply your sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure? Well, that only applies to chemical sunscreens which need that time to be absorbed into the skin.
  • Not all mineral sunscreens are safe. Some of them also contain nasty chemicals and you really need to read the labels to make sure.
  • Watch out for sunscreens that have nanoparticles. These are microscopically small particles that can be absorbed into the skin and bloodstream. Unfortunately, there are no FDA guidelines on nanoparticles, but it’s always safer to go with a sunscreen that says they don’t use nanoparticles.
  • Mineral sunscreens often don’t apply as transparently as chemical sunscreens do. Expect the possibility of white streaks and more difficulty in application.

Chemical sunscreen’s effect on our oceans.

The chemicals in non-physical sunscreens are incredibly toxic to our oceans. When we slather it on and go out into the water, it quickly rinses off and makes its way into the water ecosystem. In fact, every year somewhere between 6000 to 14000 tons of sunscreen makes its way into our coral reefs each year.

It’s only been recently that we’ve become aware that the chemicals in our sunscreens are contributing to unprecedented levels of coral bleaching.

In 2018, Hawaii banned the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. Hawaii has, in recent years, estimated that 1/5th of their coral reefs have died, and sunscreens are a huge factor in that.

Baby sunscreen vs. non baby sunscreen.

There’s absolutely no difference between a sunscreen labeled as being “for baby” and a standard sunscreen without this label.

It really just comes down to it being a marketing term. If you’re looking for a sunscreen for your baby and see one labeled “for baby” and one not, you’re probably going to go with the one that’s supposed to be for babies.

In reality, there’s zero difference, and the term “for baby” doesn’t mean anything.

Sun safety tips for babies & children.

Sunscreen isn’t the first line of defense for sun protection. Here are some must-know tips to have summer fun without worry.

  • Babies under 6 months should avoid the sun. According to the AAP, babies under the age of 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight completely. This is especially important between the hours of 10am and 4pm, when the sun and UV rays are harshest.
  • In a stroller? Use a sun canopy. If your stroller comes with a canopy, take advantage of it. If yours didn’t come with one, there’s a good chance you can buy one that works with yours.
  • Keep them away from reflective surfaces. You might be surprised to learn that water, sand and snow can reflect up to 50% of the sun’s UV rays.
  • Be careful in the car. Ever gotten a sunburn on your arm just from driving? Your little one might be in direct sunlight, so be sure to invest
  • Keep in the shade. The protection of a nice, tall tree or a sun umbrella is a great way to stay out of direct sunlight.
  • Make sure they stay cool & well hydrated. Keep a close eye on them to make sure they’re not getting overheated. If they’re becoming fussy or their skin is getting red, that could be a sign they’re too hot.
  • SPF starts with the clothing. Sun hats, long sleeves and pants are a great way to add some sun protection before even worrying about sunscreen.

Our criteria: what makes an ideal baby sunscreen.

Many parents think that they have to get the strongest, highest SPF, most expensive sunscreen they can find, but that’s really not the best way to go about it.

Here’s our criteria:

  • Physical (mineral) sunscreens: As opposed to a chemical sunscreen. Typically the sunscreens have zinc oxide as the main active ingredient, but some are combined with titanium dioxide.
  • Broad spectrum coverage. It’s important that your sunscreen offers both UVA & UVB protection.
  • Use non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. There is some concern that these nano particles can be absorbed into the blood stream.
  • SPF 30-50. A higher SPF isn’t always better, and the sweet spot is somewhere between 30-50.
  • Lotions & sticks only, no sprays. Sprays can be very difficult to apply evenly to a wiggly child, leading to missed spots and sunburns. On top of that the airborne particles can easily be inhaled, and there’s no telling what these chemicals could do. Spray sunscreens are often flammable as well.
  • Find a sunblock that is at least SPF 30. This is assuming you get a physical sunblock, which you should. Higher SPF ratings in chemical sunscreens mean more exposure to chemicals with diminishing returns in how protective it is.
  • Hypoallergenic & fragrance free sunscreen is important, especially if your child has sensitive skin.

Non-toxic sunblocks you can trust.

willow lane blanket scarf

Earth Mama Baby Mineral Sunscreen

  • SPF 40
  • Certified cruelty-free by PETA.
  • No dangerous chemicals, many organic ingredients.
  • EWG Rating: 1
Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide 25%, Inactive Ingredients: Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil*, Cocos Nucifera (Fractionated Coconut) Oil*, Cera Alba (Beeswax)*, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil*, Rubus Idaeus (Red Raspberry) Seed Oil*, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Seed Oil*, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Oil*, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter*, Tocopherol, Calendula Officinalis Flower (Calendula) Flower Extract* *Organic
willow lane blanket scarf

Thinkbaby

  • SPF 50+
  • Certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny.
  • Made in the USA.
  • EWG Rating: 1
Zinc Oxide 20% (Non-nano) Purified Water (0), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (0), Capric Caprylic Triglycerides(0), Sorbitan Stearate (Coconut Based) (1), Pine Wood Resin (0), Vegetable Glycerin (0), Cetyl Dimethicone (0), Hydrogenated Castor Oil (0), Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salt) (0), Sunflower Oil, Jojoba Oil (0), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) (0), Tocopherols (Vitamin E) (1), Olive Oil (0), Raspberry Seed Oil (0), Cranberry Seed Oil (0), Hyaluronic Acid (Made From Vegetable) (0), Glucose & Glucose Oxidase And Lactoperoxidase (0), Papaya (0)
willow lane blanket scarf

Badger Baby

  • SPF 30
  • Certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny & PETA.
  • 98% organic ingredients.
  • EWG Rating: 1
Non-Nano, Uncoated Zinc Oxide 18.75%, Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Beeswax, Sunflower Vitamin E, Organic Chamomile Oil, Organic Calendula Flower Extract, Organic Seabuckthorn Fruit Extract
willow lane blanket scarf
  • SPF 30+
  • EWG Rating: 1
Non-Nano Zinc Oxide – 24.7%, Grape Seed Oil, Organic Sunflower Oil, Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides (from Coconut Oil), Organic Beeswax, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Shea Butter, Stearic Acid (from Palm Oil), Purified Water

In conclusion…

Sun safety always starts with keeping safe in the first place — out of the sun, proper clothing, and avoiding the sun at its harshest hours.

But sunscreen is always a good idea!

20 comments
  1. I can not thank you enough for this guide!! I was looking for SAFE and NATURAL sunscreens for my 2yo daughter and ended up going with Thinkbaby (your first suggestion) and I love it! I feel great knowing that I’m not exposing my child to harmful chemicals & harmful sunrays! Keep up the great work!!

    1. I’m glad it was helpful, Paula!

      I think it’s super important to avoid chemicals, and it’s so much easier to do so today because of all the information available.

  2. Hello, we are taking our newborn to Cuba where he is going to celebrate his 3 month birthday lol we have it all…tent/little inflatable pool for under the palapa as well as floater with sunshade…rash guard shirts, hat and sun glasses…I still wanted to get sunscreen for the time when we are I the ocean… Which would be the best fit? Think Baby or badger? Or do you have another suggestion?
    Thx!!!

  3. What do you think of Live Clean sunscreen? I’m not 100% sure but I think it might be a Canadian only brand. I purchased some today and I’m excited to try it.

    1. Hi Kara. I’ve never actually heard of it, and it does seem as though it’s a Canadian brand. If anyone else has tried it, I’d love to hear your experiences!

    1. Kara, thank you so much for the support! I’m so glad to hear that it’s been helpful to you and all your mama friends! :)

  4. Any info on a brand called Blue Lizard? It’s an Australian sunscreen. I’ve read good things about their baby sunscreen but if you could provide additional information I’d appreciate it!

  5. Thanks for this list, and your review style is extremely helpful – like talking to a friend rather than reading some generic site!
    Just curious – why don’t you put ‘alot of stock ‘ into the EWG site? I’ve also heard some criticism and not sure what to think.
    Also, any thoughts on the Think Dirty app resource?

    1. Thank you for the kind words!

      There are a few reasons why I think the EWG can be sketchy at times. Apparently they have some misinformation and some nonsensical ratings. Here is a good post about why they aren’t a 100% trustworthy resource.

  6. You are an awsome mom for your babe and also for our thank you SO MUCH for sharing this. My daugther is going to be born now and here in Spain in summer. I will defenetly try to dont expose her from 10-4 when the sun is stronger. But sometimes it might be imposible to avoid. Please, couldyou tell me what sunscreen you recomend?
    Thanks in advance

  7. Thank you for the information on sunscreens, it is really helpful. Do you know is Babo Botanicals is water resistant?

    1. Hi Bridget, it’s supposed to be but I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in that. Be sure to reapply after getting out of the water to make sure no sunburns happen.

  8. I have never left a comment on a website before but I just had to say THANK YOU!!!! I’ve been going crazy looking for a safe sunblock for my babies here in the UK and it seemed like an impossible task as all the good brands don’t seem to be available here! After reading your list I have found both badger and thinkbaby!
    Thank you so much!!

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