Trust me, as a mum-of-two I know how hard it is to apply SPF to kids who won't sit still - these are the 7 best sunscreens for children that are easy to apply

I’ve tested them all and these are my go-tos.

best sunscreen for children - image of a small girl wearing sunglasses and a sun hat having sun cream applied to her face
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As a beauty editor, I am lucky enough to try lots of new products each month in my quest to work out what’s good and what’s not, including the next best sun creams to hit the market. Nothing piques my excitement more than a new SPF launch. As a product that I apply religiously every single day, rain or shine, I am truly obsessed with sunscreen and have spent years working out what the best sun creams are for my oily skin. So when I became a mum-of-two, it was only natural that I applied the same level of dedication to testing the best sun cream for children.

“Children’s delicate skin is more vulnerable to the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation compared to adults," explains Dr Hiva Fassihi, Consultant Dermatologist at OneWellbeck. "And so it is particularly important to keep children protected when out in the sun,” And while sunscreen isn’t recommended for babies under six months of age “who should be protected by sun avoidance and clothing cover-ups instead”, it’s an essential part of looking after the skin of all children aged over this.

Applying it to a wriggling toddler might feel like becoming an unwilling participant in a wrestling match, but there are some incredible sun creams for children on the market right now that take some of the stress out of application and offer all of the protection that little ones need.

What should we look for when choosing a sun cream for children?

Children’s skin can be more sensitive so Dr Hiva points out that many sun creams for children contain higher concentrations of mineral ingredients than those in adult formulations. “Ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are better tolerated on children’s skin and the white residue left by these mineral filters can actually be helpful for parents to see if any areas of skin have been missed during application,” Dr Hiva explains. The best sun creams for children also tend to have less fragrances and preservatives to reduce the chances of irritation.

In terms of the protection itself, Dr Hiva recommends looking for a high SPF like factor 50 in the circled UVA logo. “This means that the product will give the best possible protection against the UVB rays that are implicated in sunburn and the risk of skin cancers and will also protect against UVA rays too,” Dr Hiva says.

How much sun cream should we apply to children and how frequently?

Rather than applying sun cream to your kids once you’re out and about, it’s important to give it some time to sink in and get to work so around 20 minutes before leaving the house is ideal. And quantity is key to effective protection. “The amount of protection a sunscreen provides is related to how thickly it is applied to the skin, so be generous with your children’s sunscreen application,” advises Dr Hiva. “To achieve the SPF label on the bottle, the sunscreen should be applied about 2mm thick on the skin and reapplied every two hours whilst outdoors.”

It is, of course, always important to exercise sensible sun exposure with children too. Avoiding being out during the peak midday sun, wearing a sun hat, and investing in sun-protective clothing and swimwear can be very useful for children that spend a lot of time outdoors. You can now buy children's swimmers that come with a built in SPF protection.

Tips for how to apply sun cream to unwilling children?

As a mum-of-two myself I understand the struggle of slathering on sun cream to young kids that don’t want to play ball. And as a mother of two now-teenage boys, Dr Hiva has been there too. She suggests trying a solid sunscreen stick for areas like the face and a spray sunscreen for larger areas like the back and chest to speed up application. “Try and make the application of sunscreen fun, too. Consider a sunscreen song, make the application round a game of ‘Simon Says’ or make it a race to see who finishes first,” suggests Dr Hiva.

Ahead, the 7 best sun creams for children

1. La Roche-Posay Anthelios UVMune 400 Dermo-Pediatrics Invisible Spray SPF50+

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Uvmone 400 Dermo-Pediatrics Invisible Spray SPF50+

(Image credit: La Roche-Posay)

La Roche-Posay Anthelios UVMune 400 Dermo-Pediatrics Invisible Spray SPF50+

Best all-rounder sunscreen for children

Specifications

Size: 200ml

Not only does Dr Hiva recommend the La Roche-Posay Anthelios Pediatrics range for its “excellent broad spectrum UVR protection that’s well tolerated by children” but it’s the brand that I swear by for sun protection for both myself and my kids. This new mist is brilliant in that it’s so easy-to-apply thanks to the spray bottle and the formula itself is impressively lightweight so it sinks in fast without leaving any sticky residue that my kids always hate. Plus, it’s resistant against water, sweat and sand so it’s a no-brainer if you’re having a day at the seaside.

2. Heliocare 360 Pediatrics Stick SPF50+

Heliocare 360 Pediatrics Stick SPF50+

(Image credit: Heliocare)

Heliocare 360 Pediatrics Stick SPF50+

Best sunscreen for children with sensitive skin

Specifications

Size: 25g

A sunscreen stick is a game-changer when it comes to applying sun protection fast—especially on faces where you don’t want any product ending up in their eyes. This is another new launch that has been formulated specifically for children from two years and over and contains two healing antioxidants—astaxanthin and fernblock—to offer additional protection on top of the broad spectrum SPF50+. Particularly good for children that have very sensitive skin or suffer with conditions like eczema or dermatitis, it glides on effortlessly and has a totally invisible finish on the skin.

3. Ultrasun Kids SPF50+

Ultrasun Kids SPF50+

(Image credit: Ultrasun)

Ultrasun Kids SPF50+

Best sunscreen for children and their parents

Specifications

Size: 150ml

There’s a lot of trust involved when it comes to choosing sun protection for your children and Ultrasun has always been a brand that dermatologists and skin experts have recommended to me over the years for their SPFs for adults—so it’s only natural that I felt an affinity to the brand when it came to choosing sun cream for my kids. This is a huge bottle of fast-absorbing, water-resistant sunscreen that offers really high-quality protection against UVA and UVB rays for delicate skin. It sinks in effortlessly without loads of rubbing required and offers real peace of mind that skin is protected.

4. Soltan Kids Once 3hr Waterplay Spray SPF50+

Soltan Kids Once 3hr Waterplay Spray SPF50+

(Image credit: Boots Soltan)

Soltan Kids Once 3hr Waterplay Spray SPF50+

Best affordable sunscreen for children

Specifications

Size: 200ml

I do not believe that you should have to spend excessive amounts of money in order to look after your children’s skin effectively and Boots own Soltan range is one of the best family skincare brands on the market with so many formulations, SPF ratings and textures to choose from. This one is particularly good if you’re spending time on holiday at a pool or by the beach, or even if your kids are in the paddling pool in the garden at the weekend. It offers very high SPF50+ protection with 3 hours of water resistance which means that little ones will remain protected while they’re in and out of the water. And the spray bottle means it’s really easy to apply too.

4. Nivea Sun Kids Caring Roll-On 50+ Very High

Nivea Sun Kids Caring Roll-On 50+ Very High

(Image credit: Nivea)

Nivea Sun Kids Caring Roll-On 50+ Very High

Best sunscreen for children for on-the-go top ups

Specifications

Size: 50ml

During the summer months I have one of these Nivea roll-ons in every handbag, nappy bag and kids backpack and genuinely think that this rollerball applicator is one of the best ways to get sun cream onto children. My two who can be quite fussy about having SPF applied love the novelty of this being scribbled onto their face and down their arms and then rubbing it in themselves. And the small portable packaging means that it’s a great option for on-the-go application too. You can also get a blue tinted version, which my kids find amusing.

6. Childs Farm SPF 50+ Spray Sunscreen Fragrance-Free

Childs Farm SPF 50+ Spray Sunscreen Fragrance-Free

(Image credit: Childs Farm)

Childs Farm SPF 50+ Spray Sunscreen Fragrance-Free

Best sunscreen for children with sensitive skin

Specifications

Size: 100ml

Though it has eased off as they’ve grown older, both of my children were really sensitive to being out in the sun at an early age and would often develop heat rash during the summer even when I’d applied sun cream. This was the only product at the time that helped to keep their irritable skin calm, cool and protected—possibly no surprise given that the brand’s products have been staples in our house at bath time since they were both newborns. Formulated specifically for delicate and sensitive skin, it offers high protection without irritation and is dermatologist and paediatrician approved.

7. Lancaster Sun Sensitive Face and Body Sun Protection Cream For Kids SPF50

Lancaster Sun Sensitive Face and Body Sun Protection Cream For Kids SPF50

(Image credit: Lancaster)

Lancaster Sun Sensitive Face and Body Sun Protection Cream For Kids SPF50

Best sunscreen for children who play sports

Specifications

Size: 150ml

If you’ve ever known the pain of trying to rub sunscreen into wet children after they’ve come out of a pool then you will be investing in this rather luxurious sun cream pronto. Yes, it’s pricey, but this milky spray can be applied to wet or dry skin and literally melts in without leaving behind any tackiness or white streaks for sand to stick too. In fact, it actually has an anti-sand formulation so your kids will be able to continue playing happily if you’re at the beach. It’s fragrance-free and offers broad-spectrum protection for children’s sensitive skin—and it doesn’t hurt that the packaging is rather cute too. It works really well on sweaty skin too, so if you're children play a lot of sports then add this to your parenting kit pronto!

Mica Ricketts

Mica Ricketts is a freelance beauty editor and contributor to Marie Claire. She has written for titles including Refinery29 and Who What Wear UK, and also works with beauty brands on content messaging and marketing copy. She was previously Who What Wear UK's beauty editor. As someone that has tried basically every acne product on the market, she has a particular passion for debunking skincare myths and finding products that work. Plus, with two small children at home she is all about time-saving beauty routines that boost glow and disguise dark circles.