A guide to picking the best sunscreen for your family

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and a staggering one in five Americans will develop it in their lifetime. Scary, right? That’s why it’s so important to not only apply sunscreen on a regular basis, but to make sure you’re using an effective SPF and brand. But how do you know which one to choose? I did a little digging to get the scoop on sunscreen before we head off on our beach vacation next month. 

Does SPF number matter? 

Labels and keywords can make the process of choosing sun protection super confusing. The AAD generally recommends an SPF of 30 plus to decrease your exposure to harmful UV rays, but should you go higher? Skincancer.org says that SPF typically refers to protection from UVB  rays (the kind that cause sunburns and skin cancer), but it’s also important to safeguard against UVA rays, which lead to burns, along with skin damage and wrinkles. Using a broad spectrum sunscreen is the best way to shield yourself from both types. 

Under perfect conditions, a higher SPF should allow for more protection than a lower number, but if you’re relying solely on sunscreen and not taking other precautions, the difference between 30 and 50 is negligible. Dermatologists recommend wearing a sun hat, sunglasses and a coverup, along with sitting in the shade whenever possible to increase your protection. And, as much of a pain as it can be with little ones, make sure to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours (or as often as possible when swimming). If you’re afraid of forgetting touch ups, set a phone timer as a reminder. 

Which brands are best? 

Let’s say you’ve got all the beachwear covered and, like me, are finding yourself staring at a million different brands with no clue what their differences are. Luckily, Consumer Reports has done the heavy lifting for us.

 Here are some of their top picks:

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk: Best for fragrance-free

CVS Health Beach Guard Clear Spray SPF 70: Best non-greasy

Trader Joe’s SPF 50+: Best scent

Up & Up (Target) Kids Sunscreen Stick SPF 55: Best for faces 

If your kids are prone to eczema or other skin issues, the Nation Eczema Association endorses these brands:

AVEENO Baby Natural Protection Lotion Sunscreen

Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60+

CeraVe Baby Sunscreen SPF 45

The NEA recommends a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher that’s alcohol free. 

How effective is natural sunscreen? 

Every year, I go back and forth between splurging on the expensive, “natural” sunscreen and settling on a cheaper brand. Is natural sunscreen superior or is it all a bunch of clever marketing? Consumer Reports says mineral-based sunscreens are actually less protective in many cases than their “chemical” filled counterparts because it’s tough to find a brand that is broad spectrum and they just don’t perform as well in testing. If you’re determined to use a kid’s sunscreen that’s more on the natural side, they recommend California Kids #Supersensitive Lotion SPF 30+, which scores well for UVB protection and has minimal variation from its SPF. 

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