Lazy Mama Manual – How to Pick an Awesome Sunscreen

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sunscreen

I take pride in the fact that “lazy mama” is basically my middle name. So sunscreen isn’t my favorite subject because, let’s be real: it’s annoying.

I can barely muster the wherewithal to put sunscreen on my own dang face every day, so it does take a concerted effort for me to slather up my rugrats. That said, it’s just one of those things we have to do.

The sun feels stronger and stronger every summer, and I can’t bear the thought of my sweeties getting a painful burn. Every sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer by some outrageous percentage, so let’s agree to deal with the hassle.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a great resource for choosing safe and effective sunscreen. Their website can be a little wonky, but they also have a free app called Healthy Living (formerly skin deep). You can scan the barcode of your sunscreen into the app (or search by name), and they’ll give you a rating of 1-10. Note that not all products have been tested. And heads up – the lower the score, the safer the product. Many other skincare and cosmetic products are also rated through the EWG. Unfortunately, the database doesn’t really provide a review of the products, just an analysis of the ingredients.

Lucky for you, I’ve tested basically every kids’ sunscreen out there. My criteria for good sunscreen are three-fold. First, it has to have a “green score” from the EWG, with a rating of 1 or 2.

EWG technically rates the hazards of ingredients, so levels 1 and 2 have the lowest potential for harm.

My second requirement is that the sunscreen is physical only.

There are plenty of level 2 chemical sunscreens on the EWG. I prefer mineral only. Some ingredients in chemical sunscreens have been banned in Hawaii because they can damage coral reefs. It’s too much work for me to sift through which chemical UV filters are environmentally responsible and which aren’t, so it’s easier for me to pick a mineral-only product.

I also like that physical sunscreens don’t require a waiting period before they are effective.

Since they create a physical barrier on the skin, they provide immediate protection. Keep in mind that mineral-based does not mean physical/mineral-only. Rather, mineral-based products are usually a blend of physical and chemical sunscreens. Also, be aware that mineral sunscreens almost always leave a white cast on most skin tones. Some higher-end face sunscreens are clear-ish, but generally, it’s something you have to accept when it comes to beach and pool sunblocks.

Lastly, the sunscreens we choose have to be easy to apply.

An important caveat about spray sunscreens – we don’t use them. I have a few that I’ve tried on myself, but almost none of them are well regarded by the EWG, so they don’t go on the kids. Yes, spray sunscreen is convenient, but this is one of those rare instances when other factors matter more to me. Aerosol products aren’t awesome for the environment, so I try to keep my use of them to just the essential (ahem, dry shampoo).

If you moms manage to get makeup on your face during the summer, first of all, I tip my hat to you. You’re winning, and you’re flawless. But remember not to rely too much on the SPF in there. Cosmetic labeling can be misleading, and this is one example – makeup doesn’t have the SPF it says on the package unless you use a gloopy handful of the product (ick). Remember that you need proper sun protection too.

Here are my fave sunscreens for kids and families:

  1. Blue Lizard Sensitive – Bar none, this is the best sunblock for moms and kids to share. Very easy to apply, mineral only, and can sometimes be found on sale. The pink baby version is basically the same product in a different bottle. Both are excellent.
  2. Thinkbaby – Their sister sunscreen Thinksport is also good. I don’t love the fragrances of these products, and they’re a bit thicker than blue lizard but still great.
  3. Babo Botanicals Baby Face Stick – Stick sunscreen makes for easy and quick reapplication during snack time.

Have you tried a product you’d add to this list? Let me know! Most of the others we’ve tried are either way too thick to apply or leave an extra intense white cast. Whatever sunscreen you choose, it ought to be your second line of defense against UV rays. First, ensure proper clothing (rash guards for the win), shade breaks, and good planning. Remember to reapply and enjoy your summer, mama!

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Amy is a Hudson Valley native and educator working in New York City schools. She has two little kids and one little dog. Before moving to her current home in Ossining, Amy attended college on Long Island and then spent most of her 20s in Brooklyn and Queens. New York is truly home for her, and she’s thrilled to be living closer to her hometown of Garrison and her extended family. As a mom, Amy believes in empowered parenting, and she’s passionate about raising her kids to be partners in the fight for social justice. When she’s not working or trying to figure out nap time, Amy loves hiking, yoga, swimming, and relaxing with her family.