10 best kids’ sunscreens to protect their sensitive skin

We all need to take care but especially little ones, so keep harmful rays at bay with these tried and tested formulas

Sarah Dawson
Tuesday 20 April 2021 12:21
<p>With summer just around the corner, it’s time to make sun protection your priority – especially for your children</p>

With summer just around the corner, it’s time to make sun protection your priority – especially for your children

With summer just around the corner, it’s time to make sun protection your priority. Whether you’re dreaming of a sunny staycation by the coast, plenty of paddling pool action at home or even, potentially, a trip abroad, choosing a hard-working sunscreen is essential – especially for your children.

Babies and children have more sensitive and delicate skin that is highly susceptible to sun damage, so it’s even more important to take extra care with sun protection and what you use.

The NHS recommends that babies under 6 months should be kept out of direct strong sunlight and all babies and children should wear an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30 – preferably 50 – from March to October in the UK. Don’t be fooled by a typically overcast British summer’s day: you can still burn even when it’s cloudy.

“One of the most important things to remember is that you must use a dedicated children’s sunscreen,” advises Dr Firas Al-Niaimi, expert dermatologist at skin clinic sk:n. “These are much gentler on the skin and do not contain chemicals that can cause irritation to young skin.”

When it comes to how much to use and how often, the advice is more or less the same as for adults,  explains Dr Al-Niami: “Make sure you apply sunscreen in an even layer, covering any exposed skin. Always apply your child’s sunscreen 30 minutes before venturing outside and reapply it every two hours or so, or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.”

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For a more in-depth breakdown on sunscreen, the difference between UVA and UVB rays and whether that bottle from last year is safe to use, read our guide here.

In our round-up, we’ve chosen sunscreen developed specifically for children, with gentle, non-irritating formulas that are water resistant and a minimum of SPF30 – the majority are SPF50+. Each lotion, roll-on or spray has been put through its paces by our toddler and five-year-old testers, for over a month, to find our favourites.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

SunSense Kids SPF50+, 125ml

The Australians certainly know a thing or two about sun protection, and this leading Aussie brand ticks all of the boxes when it comes to safety. This SPF50+ kid-friendly formula is suitable for use from six months old and is ideal for delicate or sensitive skin. When applied, this sunscreen has a thick consistency and goes on white, which we felt was handy when making sure we’d covered all of our little tester’s skin. It absorbed very quickly and there wasn’t a hint of stickiness after just a few seconds.

Although it’s fragrance-free, this SunSense lotion still manages to smell like “holidays” and, on a superficial level, the bottle featuring cartoon animals got the thumbs up from the children. One thing that really impressed was how water resistant this sunscreen was – it took a lot of washing off at bath time.

Soltan kids protect & moisturise suncare roll on SPF50+, 50ml

If your kids have to apply their own sunscreen at school, a roll-on is an excellent choice. This great value offering from Boots’ Soltan range is so easy to use and won’t take up much room in their schoolbag, either. It rolls on white, then just needs to be rubbed into the skin to absorb properly. Boasting a five-star UVA rating – the highest level of sun protection a sunscreen can offer – it certainly does the job. We loved the summery fragrance, but if your child has very sensitive skin it might not be the best choice – opt for a fragrance-free product instead.

It’s worth mentioning, if you’re trying to encourage your kids to learn about the importance of sun protection, the Soltan Kids Learn to Reapply UV Detection Stickers are a great place to start. Stick one of the colour-changing stickers to the skin after applying sunscreen and it will turn purple when it’s time to apply some more. Genius!

La Roche-Posay anthelios dermo-kids hydrating lotion SPF50+, 250ml

You don’t want to take any chance when it comes to children’s sunscreen, so with SPF50+ as well as exceptionally high, broad, photostable UVA/UVB and Infrared protection, this formula from French skincare brand La Roche-Posay really has you covered. We found this creamy lotion a dream to apply, and it sank into the skin in an instant – great when you’ve got impatient kids who just want to go out and play immediately.

Developed specifically for children’s delicate skin, this sun cream claims to be suitable for “skin that is prone to sensitivity, sun-intolerance or prickly heat” and, while we can’t back up all of those claims, it caused no problems at all to our young tester’s reactive skin.

Avène very high protection lotion for children SPF50+ sun cream, 100ml

We found this lotion a solid choice if you have fair, pale-skinned children who are prone to burning with even just the shortest exposure to the sun. Specifically formulated for children with hypersensitive skin, this SPF50+ water-resistant sun cream is packed with ingredients known for their soothing and anti-irritating properties.

The formula feels quite lightweight and it spread out nicely on the skin, sinking in to leave a gentle, summery smell, even though it’s technically fragrance-free.

Green People organic children sun lotion SPF30, 150ml

Green People’s eco-friendly credentials are indisputable, and this organic, cruelty-free, ethical kids’ sunscreen really impressed. The renewable sugar cane packaging is fully recyclable and carbon-neutral, which straight away gets the thumbs up from us. The sun lotion itself is a pale creamy yellow that blends away seamlessly when rubbed in – just make sure you wait until it’s completely dry before dressing, as some staining is possible.

Made from 84 per cent certified organic ingredients, including olive oil, avocado oil, aloe vera and rosemary extract, it’s a nourishing, gentle formula that won’t aggravate eczema-prone skin, and, unlike some other natural sunscreens, this left our tester’s skin feeling soft, not chalky. Although it’s scent free, we definitely detected a faint smell, which didn’t bother us in the slightest, but our young tester wasn’t a fan of.

It is made with an ocean-friendly and reef-safe formula, and 30p from each purchase is donated to the Marine Conservation Society, a UK charity working to keep our seas healthy, pollution free and protected.

Ultrasun kids SPF50+, 150ml

There’s a lot of science to back up this high protection sunscreen from Swiss brand Ultrasun. With SPF50+ and a UVA absorbance of 95 per cent, it also boasts an added, natural active ingredient, Celligent, that helps to protect the delicate DNA in children’s skin. Impressive, hey? We found this by far the most “liquidy” of all the sunscreens we tested, which made it especially easy to apply as the formula just glided over the skin before sinking in – a little goes a long way, which helps to justify the price tag, too.

It was also the slowest to absorb, so best to apply this in advance before letting the kids run wild or they’ll end up with half the contents of the sandpit stuck to their skin. Lesson learned.

Bioderma photoderm kid very high protection spray SPF50+, 200ml

Suitable for children over 12 months, this spray sunscreen manages to be super gentle on little kids’ skin (even extra-sensitive, reactive skin) as well as offering very high protection from harmful UV rays. What makes it a little different to other sunscreens is Bioderma’s exclusive “cellular bioprotection”, which helps to activate the skin’s natural defences and provide the exact amount of protection for a child’s skin.

When you spray the lightweight formula onto the skin it’s white and stays like this until you’ve rubbed it in sufficiently – something we found helpful when trying not to miss any parts of a wriggly toddler. It absorbed so quickly and didn’t leave any stains on our tester’s clothes, even after they drenched themselves with the garden hose while fully clothed and sun-creamed up.

Nivea Sun kids protect and play coloured roll-on SPF50+, 50ml

Calling all parents – we’ve finally found a sunscreen your kids will want to use. If, like us, you’re fed up of the battles that come every time you attempt to cover your child with sun cream, this coloured roll on really is the answer to your sun protection prayers. This easy-to-hold, roll-on sunscreen comes out green when applied to the skin (we’re talking a not-too-offensive pastel green, rather than neon here) then disappears once you’ve rubbed it in.

The novelty factor of a coloured sunscreen seems to work a trick, and our young testers all wanted a go with “the green one”. We liked how easy it was to spot any areas of skin that had been missed, as well as the SPF50+ protection and that Nivea Sun fragrance which, quite honestly, is one of the dreamiest “transport me to a tropical beach now” smells there is.

Arbonne ABC Arbonne baby care water resistant sunscreen SPF30, 177ml

If you’re looking for an extremely gentle sunscreen you can use from birth, this paediatrician-tested pick from Arbonne is a fantastic choice. The non-greasy, mineral formula is reassuringly thick and takes a bit of rubbing in, but absorbs quickly leaving skin feeling velvety soft. Aloe vera, chamomile and vitamin E help to moisturise and calm the skin, all while offering sun protection with SPF30. It’s also gluten-free and vegan.

Yes, the price tag is high, but Arbonne Baby Care Sunscreen feels more like a high-end moisturiser – in fact, we loved it so much we used it as a sunscreen for our face too.

Heliocare 360° pediatrics atopic lotion spray SPF50+, 250ml

Spray bottles are worth their weight in gold when you are trying to sun cream up a waiting line of fidgety children at the beach. This trigger spray sunscreen from Heliocare’s dedicated kids’ range was so quick and simple to use (just remember to give it a shake first), although trying to stop one little tester from running around spraying everything in sight was not so straight forward!

One tip – we’d recommend spraying the formula into the palm of your hand before applying to the face, to avoid irritating the eyes. Suitable for sensitive and atopic skin, this fragrance and alcohol-free, water-resistant formula can be used from six months, providing SPF50+ and extremely high UVA protection. Don’t be put off by the price, the bottle is huge and will last for ages.

The verdict: Kids' sunscreen

SunSense kids SPF50+ really delivered on everything we’d hope for in a kids’ sunscreen – high, comprehensive protection, quick and easy to apply, non-irritating and seriously impressive staying power when faced with water. A special shout out goes to Nivea Sun kids protect and play coloured roll-on, for actually making our children want to use sun cream – result!

Now that your little ones are protected why not invest in one of these facial sunscreens that are non-greasy and will give you daily protection

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