Getting your child slathered up with sunscreen before she heads out the door in the morning can feel like a game of cat and mouse. She kicks, screams and squeals at the prospect of being coated with a thick gooey substance. And why shouldn’t she? It’s not exactly a fun endeavor.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that the sunscreen phenomenon really kicked in. You probably grew up coating yourself in baby oil before going out to get a great base tan. But times have changed, and as difficult as it is to strap her down and slather her up, it’s important. The bulk of skin damage happens in childhood. And skin cancer is showing up at younger and younger ages. 

With a nearly endless array of sunscreen choices facing you at the drugstore, what kind should you get? They all claim to do the same thing, but with slightly different variations. Some offer one form of UV protection but not another, some are hypo-allergenic, some include fragrance, some come in spray form, in foam, or in gel. The SPF runs the gamut from 15 to 50. It’s a little much.

Here’s the lowdown on sunscreen for your kids. Less is more. Less chemicals that is. Most dermatologists recommend a “chemical-free” sunscreen made with zinc oxide or titanium oxide. These ingredients stay on top of the skin, unlike chemical ingredients that get absorbed.  

Next, look for sunscreens that are PABA-free. PABA is known to cause skin irritation, especially in young children. The last thing you want on top of an argument about slathering up, is a rash. If your child has sensitive skin, any sunscreen you pick should be   fragrance-free and hypo-allergenic.

Confused by all the numbers? Here it is in plain English: You want an SPF of at least 15, but most experts agree that you don’t need to go higher than 30. Sunscreens with SPF above 30 don’t actually provide that much more protection, and it takes more chemicals to make them work. So keep it above 15 and under 30 and look for brands that offer broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection.

According to Consumer Reports, the best overall sunscreen for kids is: Blue Lizard Baby SPF 30. According to Blue Lizard, their chemical-free formulas keep your skin completely safe from ultraviolet radiation. With 10 percent Zinc Oxide and 5 percent Titanium Dioxide, harmful sunlight is reflected before it has a chance to penetrate the lower layers. It can be purchased at CVS, Amazon, or One Step Ahead.

Here are 7 other options with good protection that are “chemical-free:"

  1. Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sunblock Lotion SPF 45 - a good sunscreen, plus has both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
  2. Banana Boat Baby Tear Free UVA & UVB Sunblock Lotion SPF 50 - a sunscreen with titanium dioxide.
  3. Coppertone Kids Spectra 3 SPF 50 Sunblock Lotion - a sunscreen with zinc oxide.
  4. Coppertone Water Babies SPECTRA3 Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 - a sunscreen with zinc oxide.
  5. Earth’s Best Organic Sunblock SPF 30-  extra mild and safe ingredients such as Beta Glucan, Oat Oil and Lavender Extract.
  6. California Baby SPF 30- unfragranced, PABA free, and non-chemical. California Baby’s active ingredient is titanium dioxide and it offers UVA-UVB broad-spectrum protection. Look for it in natural food stores.
  7. Lavera Kids SPF 30- UVA, UVB and UVC protection, plus anti-irritating substances like Liquorice and Evening Primrose Oil, which can have an anti -inflammatory effect on the skin. Also at natural food stores.

No matter what sunscreen you choose to spread on your child this summer, pediatricians do recommend you remember to reapply often. Also, be sure to pinpoint the areas that often get neglected such as ears, neck and feet. And remember, a good hat and sunglasses shouldn’t be overlooked as ways to protect against the sun, too. Now that you’re armed and ready, good luck getting Squirmy to let you slather him silly.