May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and sun protection has become a big topic in our house. Like many young (and might I add irresponsible) teenagers, I used a tanning bed from time to time during college and in my early twenties. This was despite my 100% Irish, blue eyed maternal grandfather having melanoma and my mom having multiple problem areas on her own skin. Don’t get me wrong, my parents lathered us in sunscreen in the 80’s and 90’s and I’ve had very few burns in my lifetime, but I felt that young person sense of invincibility and bought into that whole idea of a “healthy glow”.
Well guess, what? I’m not invincible and it took me until I was in my mid twenties to realize that. Fast forward to January 2017 and I give birth to the most fair, blue eyed red head that you ever did see. How do I keep her covered in the sun and prevent sun burns? Fast forward again to Spring 2018. I go into my annual dermatologist appointment and I leave with my doctor having to remove a small sample from my hairline to see if it’s pre-cancerous. It was in that spot, you know, the one that’s so hard to remember to reach with sunscreen – right where my hairline meets my forehead. End of story, I ended up needing MOHS on my forehead to fully remove the spot. If you’re not familiar with MOHS, it’s a surgery in which layers of skin are removed individually and then tested to make sure all of the basal or squamous cell carcinomas are clear. It’s not fun in the moment, but I’m thankful to have it all removed and with no scarring.
The post below is a long one and is broken up in two parts. The first part focuses on how to pick sunscreen and is written by Brittany Sheehan, founder of our Beach Cities Moms site and former Birch Box Marketing Director. You can also find her personal blog here or find her on Instagram @bicoastalbabyb. The second part lists some of my favorite sun protection gear for moms and kids.
Part One: SMACKDOWN SERIES: Baby Sunscreen, written by Brittany Sheehan
A word on “mineral” sunscreen (which is what many Moms aim to use)
There are essentially two groups when it comes to sunscreen – physical (commonly called mineral or natural) and chemical. Physical sunscreens sit on top of the skin and deflect UV rays. They contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which is what gives them that ulta-sexy pasty white appearance (usually). Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand (the most traditional ones you see, like Coppertone and Banana Boat for instance), actually absorb into your skin like a sponge. A chemical reaction (created by the chemical compounds in the main ingredients) work by changing UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat from the skin.
Now, both physical and chemical sunscreens prevent your baby (or you!) from burning and lowering your risk of skin cancer, you don’t need me to tell you that. However, there are some questionable ingredients found in chemical sunscreens, which is why many Moms opt for physical. I will not scare you with the details, but The EWG is a great resources if you want to know more. The Environmental Working Group rates products (not just sunscreen) on a 1 to 10 scale, with 1 being the safest and 10 being basically…..really bad. You can type in any product you use and get it’s score. I do not recommend looking up something you love that you know is not natural, fair warning.
A word on the 6 month rule
According to the AAP, ideally you should wait until your baby is 6 months old to use sunscreen, because their skin is so sensitive. Instead, cover their heads with hats, their bodies with blankets, or keep them in the shade, in a stroller, etc. It’s easier than it sounds (and this is coming from someone whose baby was born in the NYC summer and then moved to LA – kid has literally never been out of sun). Here is a picture of Teddy living his best shade life on the beach circa 6 weeks old.
A word on Vitamin D deficiencies
This is a real thing. People go so FREAKIN nuts with sunscreen that as many as 70% of kids actually have a vitamin D deficiency, which has its own host of problems. I am not suggesting you and your baby lay out on lawn chairs, lubed up with tanning oil (remember doing that? No, just me?). But if you’re running to Target at 9 AM, you probably don’t need to lather your kid in head to toe SPF 50. Use your best judgement.
And without further ado, the SUNSCREEN SMACKDOWN RESULTS:
Least Favorite: Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion
EWG Score: 1
Consistency: White, chalky, really hard to rub in.
Smell: Horrible (in my opinion) – like really sweet and gross. I’m trying not to be mean.
Overall: Incredibly safe option, but with all the trapping of a physical sunscreen and a baby sunscreen – pricey, chalky, hard to rub in and with a sickly sweet smell. I don’t know why it’s called “clear” because it def is not.
Also Do Not Love:Babyganics Pure Mineral Sunscreen Stick – SPF 50+
EWG Score: 1
Consistency: Well, it’s a stick. White and hard to rub in.
Overall: I don’t dislike it as much as Babo, but I also really hate sticks for babies. They are awesome for KIDS because they can grab it and put it on themselves without making a mess. But rubbing a hard stick on a baby’s face is just….no. Also, despite having a EWG score of 1, Babyganics does have a few ingredients I don’t love, if you’re a real stickler for that.
Good, Not Great: Alba Botanica Kids Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
EWG Score: 2
Consistency: Very easy to apply & does not leave any white residue.
Overall: This was my go-to before I discovered the WINNER below. The EWG score is fine, not amazing. Alba does contain some chemical compounds. Listen, if you’re not tied to having the most natural possible product on earth, this is an excellent and safe option at a good price. It’s also great if you really hate scent and want something fragrance free.
Honorable Mention: BeautyCounter – Countersun Mineral Lotion SPF 30
EWG Score: 1
Consistency: Easier than most physical sunscreens to apply, not QUITE as easy as ThinkBaby but super close. Does not leave residue.
Overall: The only reason this one doesn’t win is because it’s so much more freakin expensive than the others. To be fair, this sunscreen is designed for the whole family, not just babies, which partially explains the price (it’s also a larger volume of product than some of the others). It’s very safe, smells great, and doesn’t have a lot of the trapping of physical sunscreens. This is one I use for myself, amongst others.
WINNER: Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+
EWG Score: 1
Consistency: Slides on super smooth and leaves no residue.
Smell: Great – fresh and summery, not overpowering.
Overall: ThinkBaby wins because it checks EVERY box – it’s inexpensive, incredibly safe, high SPF, smells awesome, and is easy to apply. After testing so many….this is definitely the one Teddy will be using going forward.
What baby sunscreens do you love? What questions do you have about baby sunscreen I didn’t address? Hit us up in the comments!
Part Two: Outfitting you & your little for a day at the beach: Sun Protection gear
Besides being super diligent about sunscreen, I also try to dress us as best as possible for days spent out in the blazing sun. For us that means hats year round and rash guards at the beach. Here are some of the brands that I love and go back to year after year.
iPlay (for the mini): I have bought Isabelle iPlay hats year round since she was a baby. I’m can’t remember where I heard about the brand (maybe Lucie’s List), but the hats work really well for us. They’re easy to order off Amazon and come in a bunch of fun colors. I love the fact I can tie the hat underneath her chin – this seems to do the trick with keeping the hat on. In addition to hats, iPlay manufactures a bunch of other sun protection products like sun glass & rash guards.
Snapper Rock (the mini): I turn to this brand for swim gear for Isabelle. The brand launched in 2003 when the founder moved from New Zealand to Annapolis, MD and realized the need in the US Market for fun and functional protective gear for kids on the water. The have since expanded to include gear for adults. I’ve put Isabelle in their long sleeve sunsuits since her first time at the beach. They hold up great against salt water, chlorine, and the washer.. And there are a ton of cute patterns to pick from!
Coolibar (for moms & dads): Again this is another brand that makes gear for kids and adults, but it’s my brand of choice for my own stuff (and for what I pick out for my husband – hahaha). My mom actually introduced me to the brand and since learning about it, I’ve bought a few rash guards (great for the pool/beach and for time outside in the garden), a hat, and a cover-up. I use all of these pieces frequently, and like Snapper Rock, this brand holds up really well against the outside elements and the washer. The other cool thing about this brand is that they sell clothes for beyond the pool. So if you’re an avid golfer or tennis player, you can find gear for those activities as well.
What are your favorite sunscreen or sun protection brands? Comment below!