Ideally, a sunscreen would be block both UVA and UVB rays (UVA causes invisible damage while UVB causes the red burn that you see), contain ingredients that don't break down in the sun (since once the active ingredients break down you're at risk for sunburn), and all ingredients would be proven safe for both adults and children. After looking a bit, I found no sunscreen that met all of these criteria. Big surprise. In the end, I had to prioritize, so I made a list of what was really important to me.
Here were my requirements:
- easy to apply, preferably a lotion/cream for faces and a spray for the rest of their body so that I could reapply often, even if the kids were busy
- SPF 30 or better
- something non-stinging since it inevitably finds its way into their eyes
- a water-resistant formulation since we spend a lot of time in the sprinkler
- something that didn't contain really concerning ingredients
- reasonably priced, since we need to buy it by the gallon
In the end, I simply couldn't afford to spend a few hundred bucks on sunblock for the summer, so chose one lotion for the big kids (it got a green rating overall in spite of having some questionable ingredients) and and a more expensive one for our infant since she (a) doesn't use much and (b) is tiny and seems particularly susceptible. I skipped the spray since there was no reasonably priced choice that was also sufficiently safe. Hopefully that will change by next summer.
Finally, while I was looking through their database I checked into the safety of the sunblocks I already had on the shelf. I was surprised to find that the Neutrogena I had bought for myself didn't stand up to the SPF rating on the bottle--explaining why I got a light sunburn (and extra freckles!) on my face a couple of times last summer. If nothing else, you might want to check into the actual efficacy of the sunblocks that you already own to avoid a surprise sunburn.
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