Sunscreen Vs. Sunblock: Is There A Difference?

Summer time is in full swing and things are really heating up. Little ones’ sensitive skin is prone to damage from the sun’s harmful rays so it’s vital to protect them. There is a vast selection of skin protecting products available that are marketed for infants and toddlers from sunscreens to sun lotions. With so many options how do you choose which one is right for your child and what is the difference? I’ve provided this guide to go over the differences between sunscreen vs. sunblock to help you in deciding the best protection for your family.



Sunscreen is designed to reduce exposure to harmful ultraviolet radiation. Sunscreens act as filters that are composed of ingredients which absorb UVB and UVA rays. Over time, these chemicals break down from prolonged exposure to the sun which requires frequent reapplication. It is also less visible on the skin leaving a thin film as opposed to heavier, creamy sunblocks. Sunscreen is also commonly found in many cosmetic products to protect against the sun’s damaging effects that can lead to premature aging.


toddler applying sunscreenSunblock is more opaque in appearance and sits atop of the skin; it is not absorbed like sunscreen. It is designed as a physical barrier to block the sun’s rays. These are usually white in color and contain zinc oxide (the same ingredient commonly found in diaper rash creams). A common myth that is widely believed is that sunblock leads to Vitamin D deficiency as it prevents the body’s production of Vitamin D that comes from the sun, an important nutrient for developing bones and immune system. While the use of sunblock protects you from exposure to harmful rays, it does not prevent the body from producing Vitamin D which can be easily obtained with as little as 20 minutes of sun exposure.

Sunscreen and sunblock are both labeled with a sun protection factor number to indicate the amount of protection it offers against UVB rays as opposed to not having any on. For prolonged exposure to the sun or those with very sensitive skin, such as infants, it is recommended that you use a broad-spectrum sunblock that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation with SPF 30.

It should also be noted that just because a sunblock is labeled with a higher SPF (say 45 or greater) does not necessarily indicate that it’s much better. No sunscreen or sunblock will block out 100% of the sun’s rays. The higher SPF rating may offer slightly more protection but not really significant – you’re looking at a difference of less than 5%. For instance, an SPF 30 sunblock protects your skin from UVB rays by 97%, SPF 50 – 98%.

What Should You Avoid?

Avoid using spray sunscreens. These are very popular for kids as they’re easier to apply than creams but they pose a risk of inhalation. If you have a sunscreen spray first spray it into your hands then apply to the child’s skin being careful around the eyes. Some spray-on sunscreens that were tested have also been shown to be less effective when skin becomes wet. Look at the labels of the products before you buy. There are many natural and organic variety sun lotions available that do not contain potentially harmful chemicals. See also our selection in our buying guide.

Always follow safety guidelines when it comes to taking your little one out for a little fun in the sun. If you have concerns, always consult with your pediatrician for recommendations on which sunblock is right for your baby.

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