Baby Sunscreen vs Regular Adult Sunscreen Explained for Parents

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Taking baby to the pool or beach can be a giant ball of stress.

You need a ton of supplies, swim diapers, special floaties, and of course, oodles and oodles of sunscreen.

After all, there’s nothing worse than a sunburnt baby!

A lot of parents obsess over buying the right sunscreen for their baby or newborn and end up spending a fortune on high-end creams and lotions.

It begs the question: What’s the difference between baby sunscreen vs adult sunscreen? Does it matter or can you just use whatever’s cheapest?

There’s really not a difference between adult and baby sunscreen. Those categories don’t mean anything or tell you anything about what’s actually in the sunscreen. For example, most basic sunscreens and their baby counterparts actually have the exact same active ingredients!

What’s more important is determining the type of sunscreen you want to use when it comes to chemicals vs minerals, and sprays vs lotions. But most experts agree that the best sunscreen is the one you can reliable get your child to use. Anything is better than none!

But there’s so much more to know, and many pediatric recommendations to understand before you go buying sunscreen for your newborn. Let’s take a look!

Types of Adult Sunscreens and Ingredients Explained

Did you know that there are many different types and categories of sunscreen beyond just “spray vs lotion”?

More specifically, sunscreen buyers should be aware of:

  • Chemical sunscreens
  • And physical sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens feature ingredients that must be absorbed into the skin. Once they’ve burrow into your top layer of skin (after about 15 minutes or so), they’re able to absorb UV rays and prevent them from damaging your skin.

Chemical sunscreens have a few pros and cons to consider. On the plus side, you don’t need to use as much of them and they’re easy to apply. On the downside, they take time to soak in properly and because they’re absorbed into the skin, they can cause irritation.

Physical sunscreens, on the other hand, sit on top of your skin and form a barrier, actually blocking the sun’s rays and deflecting them away from your skin.

Physical sunscreens generally offer better protection, but wash off easier and must be reapplied regularly. They can also leave visible residue (a white cast) on the skin.

How can you tell which type of sunscreen you’re looking at?

It comes down to the ingredients.

Chemical sunscreens will have lots and lots of different ingredients. For example, the active ingredients in your basic Copperstone Sport SPF 50 spray are Avobenzone 3%, Homosalate 10%, Octisalate 5%, and Octocrylene 5%.

Physical, also known as mineral, sunscreens will use either titanium dioxide and/or zinc dioxide as the primary active ingredients.

Of course, there are also different physical forms of sunscreen including:

  • Spray
  • Stick
  • Lotion
  • And even powder!

Spray vs lotion doesn’t really tell you much about which type of sunscreen you’re dealing with, you’ll have to look at the ingredients list.

(Although mineral sunscreens are usually clearly labelled as such).

The general expert consensus on spray vs cream/lotion seems to be that there’s some harm that can come from inhaling the chemicals and minerals present in spray, but it’s better to use spray sunscreen than to use none at all.

In my experience, sticks work fantastically well for faces. But powders can also be a great choice for faces, as they don’t leave the greasy, lotiony residue all over!

Baby and Kid Sunscreen Explained

So if a sunscreen is marketed as “for babies” or “for kids” – does that mean anything?

It turns out… not really!

Having “baby” on the label may indicate that a sunscreen is using minerals and other hypoallergenic ingredients.

Or it may not.

For example, remember the basic Coppertone Sport SPF 50 mentioned above? It comes in a baby version, complete with pink bottle, and uses the same exact active ingredients (just in slightly different amounts).

So, no, experts agree that there’s really no need to buy Baby or Kid-branded sunscreens, especially at a premium cost.

But that leaves the question… what sunscreen SHOULD you buy for a baby?

Here are some guidelines.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids and babies use mineral-based physical sunscreen. Again, look for the ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium oxide. These are the kinds of gentle minerals found in a lot of diaper creams.

Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB protection) sunscreen with a SPF of at least 15. We usually go for around SPF 50 for our kids!

According to Children’s Hospital of Colorado, children may be at risk of inhaling harmful chemicals when you use spray sunscreen, and most experts agree that creams/lotions/liquids are better for kids. The thicker the cream, the harder it will be to wash away in the water, and the more effective it will be.

The AAP also says children under 6 months should avoid being in the sun all together.

Ultimately, the expert guidelines above are your best and safest bet, but pediatricians agree that ANY sunscreen you can reliable get on your kids is better than them getting a bad sunburn.

For baby’s face, Blue Lizard mineral sunscreen stick (Amazon link) always gets extremely high marks. We use it and it works like a charm.

For a good body sunscreen, remember, you don’t have to buy baby branded! Coppertone Pure & Simple mineral lotion sunscreen (Amazon link) is a perfect choice.

Wrapping Up

Let’s finally answer the question:

Can you use adult sunscreen on babies? Yes you can!

Ideally, the adult sunscreen would be a mineral-based lotion, but remember — ANY sunscreen used is better than none. So you should use whatever you can get easily and whatever your child will let you apply.

(You’d be surprised how big of a deal that is! I’ll admit that we often use spray on our kids because it’s way, way easier and takes less time.)

And yes, adults can use baby sunscreen! Remember, there’s really no difference between the two as long as you’re paying attention to the SPF and whether it’s a mineral or chemical sunscreen.

(Some adults also ask if baby sunscreen is better to use on their own face vs regular sunscreen. Not particularly. If you want something gentle, just get a mineral-based stick or lotion or powder that’s formulated for faces and sensitive skin.)

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Hope this helps!