EWG recently published its list of 22 best sunscreen lotions for kids in 2016. In this post, we’ll take a look at four of the most popular top-rated sunscreens from their list and share our favorites based on real-world testing!
So let’s back up for a moment. How, you might ask, did EWG choose what sunscreens were worthy of making its list? Well, all 22 sunscreens received the lowest (best) possible score of “1” in EWG’s 2016 analysis, based on a combination of the degree of protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and the ingredient hazard score. All of them are “mineral” or “physical” sunblocks, which utilize zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to deflect UV light. According to EWG, this is because physical sunscreens are stable in sunlight, offer a good balance of protection against both UVA and UVB radiation, and tend to be free of harmful additives. (In contrast, “chemical” sunscreens — which rely on chemicals such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and/or octinoxate to absorb UV light — are not as stable in sunlight, penetrate the skin, more often include harmful additives such as retinyl palmitate, and are associated with toxicity concerns such as hormone disruption and skin allergies.)
So, we know that all the sunscreens on EWG’s list provide good protection from the sun and are safe. But that’s it — EWG does not consider performance attributes such as hand feel/greasiness, whiteness/chalkiness factor, or water resistance. So that’s where we picked up with our testing!
We tested four of the most popular, highly-rated sunscreens from EWG’s list (or in some cases, a sister product with the exact same base formulation, just a different scent or packaging). These are the sunscreens that we see recommended time and time again in mommy groups and the like. They are also all readily available online from major retailers. Here are the four products that we tested:
- Thinksport Sunscreen, SPF 50+ (Identical to the Kids version on EWG’s list, except for the packaging and the scent) (TotScoop link, Amazon link)
- BurnOut Kids Physical Sunscreen, SPF35 (TotScoop link, Amazon link)
- Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive, SPF30+ (Identical to the Baby version on EWG’s list, except for packaging) (TotScoop link, Amazon link)
- Badger Active Unscented Sunscreen, SPF 30 (Identical to the Baby version on EWG’s list, except without any added fragrance) (TotScoop link, Amazon link)
Summary of findings from our testing
Overall, we honestly liked all of these sunscreens, for different reasons and uses! Here are the key dimensions on which we evaluated them, and our high-level findings on each.
Ease of application & greasiness factor:
All four sunscreens, being mineral sunscreens, had at least a minimally greasy feel, both while being applied and on the skin afterward. However, there were some differences in consistency and hand feel. Thinkbaby, BurnOut, and Blue Lizard all impressed by being easy to apply and feeling minimally greasy. We did still feel the urge to wash our hands after applying these three, but if we couldn’t get to a sink, they did soak in after a time and didn’t feel too terrible. Badger was definitely the thickest and greasiest; we were hesitant in our testing to bring this anywhere where we wouldn’t have ready access to soap and water.
WINNERS: Thinkbaby, BurnOut, and Blue Lizard (tie)
We were pleasantly surprised with our results in general here. A lot of progress has been made over the last few years with mineral sunscreens!
Thinksport, BurnOut, and Blue Lizard were very easy to rub in, and left hardly any whitish cast after doing so. Badger definitely went on the whitest of the four, but if you don’t overapply, it’s also possible to rub in to the point of being almost imperceptible with a bit more effort.
WINNERS: Thinkbaby, BurnOut, and Blue Lizard (tie)
First, note that the manufacturers make different very claims with regard to water resistance. Thinkbaby is rated for 80 minutes of water resistance (the maximum allowable by the FDA). Badger is rated for 40 minutes of water resistance. Blue Lizard makes no claim with regard to water resistance (for this product). BurnOut makes no claim with regard to water resistance.
When they came into contact with water, Thinkbaby and Blue Lizard both performed well; they didn’t rub off, and the water beaded up on top of the applied sunscreen instead of washing it off. Badger also resisted water to some extent, but felt extremely tacky to the touch when wet. BurnOut (which, recall, never claimed to be water resistant) washed right off.
WINNER: Thinkbaby; RUNNER UP: Blue Lizard
Safety/purity of ingredients:
Recall that all four of the sunscreens tested were rated a “1” by EWG, so they can all be considered “safe” (especially compared to most chemical sunscreens). However, there is a range of natural vs. chemical ingredients, which for some parents may constitute an important difference.
Badger definitely stands out as by far the top choice in terms of natural ingredients. It contains 100% certified natural and 98% certified organic ingredients, and its fragrance-free product contains only five ingredients (!). After that, Thinkbaby‘s ingredient list reads the next most natural, followed by BurnOut, and finally Blue Lizard last.
Additionally, note that of the four sunscreens tested, only Blue Lizard contains titanium dioxide in addition to zinc oxide as the active ingredient. Most sources these days suggest that titanium oxide is perfectly safe, as long as it is not inhaled…however, some people nonetheless prefer to avoid it.
WINNER: Badger; RUNNER UP: Thinkbaby
Out of the four brands tested, only Thinkbaby does not produce a fragrance-free product. (Its “Baby” and “Kids” versions incorporate papaya, while the adult version incorporates currant and grapefruit.) Most people don’t seem to mind the scent, but the scent-sensitive may find it too strong (one of our testers did).
BurnOut, Blue Lizard, and the “unscented” sunscreen from Badger are all fragrance free, and our resident sensitive nose did not detect any unpleasant scent.
WINNERS: Depends on your scent preference…if you prefer unscented, then BurnOut, Blue Lizard, or Badger Unscented
We didn’t have any concerns about packaging for any of the products. But there was one very strong positive that was worth noting. Blue Lizard is packaged in a photosensitive “Smart Bottle,” which changes color in UV light. We originally regarded this as just a gimmick, but after carrying it around for a few weeks in our diaper bag, we realized that this is actually a brilliant idea. It nudged us to apply sunscreen many times when we didn’t realize we needed it (e.g. gloomy, overcast days). It’s also speaks a language that even toddlers/preschoolers can understand: “Oh look, the bottle is blue, that means we need to apply sunscreen!”
WINNER: Blue Lizard
THE BOTTOM LINE:
These are all great products, and overall we feel lucky that we have such great choices for mineral sunscreens these days!
If you don’t mind a scented sunscreen, Thinkbaby is an excellent choice. In our testing it edged out BurnOut and Blue Lizard just a hair in terms of performance (smoothest consistency, very easy to rub in, non-greasy feel on skin) and is water-resistant to boot, so it’s a great all-purpose sunscreen.
If you prefer unscented, we also heartily recommend both BurnOut and Blue Lizard. They both perform great for daily (non-water) use. We’d probably err on the side of reaching for BurnOut for everyday use, given its superior UVA/UVB modeling results from EWG. However, Blue Lizard is at least somewhat water resistant, whereas BurnOut is not, so we’d take the former along on a pool or beach day. We also love Blue Lizard’s “Smart Bottle,” which will remind you to apply sunscreen when you might not otherwise think to.
Badger is also a very nice sunscreen, one that truly shines on the safety/purity dimension. It definitely goes on whiter and feels a bit greasier than the others we tested, but many parents find this a worthwhile trade-off, especially for younger babies. Badger does not, however, react well to water (it gets very tacky). We’ll continue to reach for this product for our baby in non-water conditions when we’ll have easy access to soap/water to wash up after applying, but will most likely stick with one of the other three brands tested as our daily go-to diaper bag sunscreen (due to greater ease of application).
Hope you found this helpful! What have your experiences with these sunscreens been? Did we miss your favorite sunscreen? Let us know in the comments!
Appendix: Product details
If you’re looking for more deets, here are the full results from our analysis and testing.
Thinksport / Thinkbaby
- Breaking down the different versions: Thinkbaby sells three different flavors: Thinkbaby (orange lettering), Thinksport for Kids (blue lettering), and just plain old Thinksport (black lettering). They all contain the same base formulation; only the packaging and scents differ. (Note that, confusingly, the product that we tested was the Kids product, but a previous version with black lettering.)
- Active ingredient: Zinc oxide 20% (non-nano)
- EWG ratings (regular, Kids, Baby): Overall score = 1, UVA protection rating: Excellent (link)
- Fragrance: All three use natural fragrance to mask the scent of the zinc oxide. The “Baby” and “Kids” versions use papaya, while the regular version uses currant and grapefruit.
- Water resistance rating: All 3 versions are rated for highest level of water resistance (80 minutes) based on FDA testing
- Price: MSRP is $12.99 for 3oz. Available on Amazon from ~$11 (Amazon links: Baby, Kids, Regular)
We tested the “Kids” version (and have also used the “Baby” product in the past). Easy to apply: non-greasy feel, very easy to rub in. Doesn’t leave much if any of a white cast. Performs well in water. Smell may be too strong for some people, and there is no unscented version available. Great value, given comparatively lower price. A top choice for everyday use as well as at the pool/beach (as long as you don’t mind the scent).
- Breaking down the different versions: BurnOut sells three different mineral sunscreens, all rated SPF35:
- “Ocean-Tested” (water-resistant, scented)
- “Eco-Sensitive” (fragrance free, “for face and body,” “goes on clean and clear,” “perfect for sensitive skin”), and
- “Kids” (fragrance free)
- Active ingredients: Zinc Oxide (non-nano) 18.9%. All three versions are chemical-, paraben-, and petroleum-free.
- EWG rating: Overall score = 1, UVA protection rating: Excellent (link)
- Fragrance: “Eco-Sensitive” is fragrance-free. The “Kids” version is not labeled as fragrance free, and features pomegranate and plantain in the ingredient list. The “Ocean-Tested”is not labeled as fragrance free, and contains cucumber, green tea, and pomegranate in the ingredient list.
- Water resistance rating: Only the “Ocean-Tested” version claims to be “very water-resistant, sweatproof.” The other two don’t make any claims as to water resistance.
- Price: All 3 formulations have an MSRP $17.99 for 3.0-3.4 oz. Current prices on Amazon are about $14-15 (Amazon links: Kids, Eco-Sensitive, Ocean-Tested)
We tested the “Kids” version. Easy to apply: non-greasy feel, very easy to rub in. Doesn’t leave much if any of a white cast. No noticeable smell. Washes off easily in water, so not a good choice for pool/beach. But a great choice for everyday use.
- Breaking down the different versions: The “Baby” and “Sensitive” versions are exactly the same, except for the packaging color (“Baby” has a pink cap). Blue Lizard also sells “Regular” and “Sport” versions, but those also include chemical absorbers (Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, and Octocrylene) as well, so aren’t mineral-only.
- Active ingredients (for “Baby” and “Sensitive” versions only): Zinc Oxide 10%, Titanium Dioxide 5%
- EWG ratings (for “Baby” and “Sensitive” versions only): Overall score = 1, UVA protection rating: Good (link)
- Packaging: “Smart Bottle” (normally white) turns blue in UV light
- Fragrance: Fragrance-free
- Water resistance rating: Neither the “Baby” nor “Sensitive” versions claims water resistance. Blue Lizard’s Regular and Sport versions are water-resistant, but pair chemical absorbers (such as Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, and Octocrylene) with zinc oxide, so aren’t the right choice if you’re looking for a mineral-only sunscreen.
- Price: MSRP $14.99 for 3oz., currently $12 on Amazon for Baby and $16 for Sensitive
We tested the “Sensitive” (fragrance-free) version. Easy to apply: non-greasy feel, very easy to rub in. Doesn’t leave much if any of a white cast. No noticeable smell. Demonstrated impressive staying power when exposed to water, despite no claims about water resistance. Unique “Smart Bottle” is a great innovation that may remind you to apply sunscreen lots of times when you should but otherwise wouldn’t (e.g. gloomy, overcast days). A great choice for everyday use, and would probably also work well at the pool/beach.
- Breaking down the different versions: Badger’s “Active,” “Baby,” and “Kids” products share the same base formulation (and are all rated for 40 minutes of water resistance); only the scents and packaging differ. Badger also sells several other formulations, including “Daily” (non-comedogenic, not water-resistant) and “Sport” (rated for 80 minutes of water resistance).
- Active ingredients: Zinc Oxide (non-nano) 18.8%. Badger’s products have the simplest, most natural ingredient lists out of all the sunscreens we tested, and are 98% certified organic. The Active version has only five ingredients!
- EWG rating: Overall score = 1, UVA protection rating: Excellent (link)
- Fragrance: The “Active” version is fragrance free; the “Baby” version contains calendula and camomile; and the “Kids” version contains sweet orange, tangerine, and vanilla natural fragrance.
- Water resistance rating: The “Active,” “Baby,” and “Kids” versions are all rated for 40 minutes of water resistance per FDA guidelines
- Price: All 3 formulations have an MSRP $15.99 for 2.9 oz. Current prices on Amazon are about $13.50 (Amazon links: Baby, Kids, Active)
We tested the “Active” (fragrance-free) version. It was easy to apply, but definitely felt a bit greasy (we definitely felt the need to wash hands with soap after applying it). Went on with a definite whitish cast, though we were able to minimize this by rubbing it in well. When on the skin, however, we didn’t find it to feel noticeably more greasy than the other sunscreens we tested. No noticeable smell. It demonstrated at least some water resistance, however became extremely tacky feeling, so in our opinion would not be a good choice for the pool/beach.