Just like any other member of your family, without proper protection, your dog can be sunburned and get skin cancer, too.
It’s hard enough finding a great sunscreen for humans, isn’t it? Some work better than others, some have ingredients toxic to us and the environment.
When I began investigating sunscreens for dogs, I discovered the situation was even more complicated!
When it comes to sunscreen for pets, there are no regulations, and many products simply don’t do what they claim. Others contain ingredients which, while perfectly safe for us, can be poisonous to your fur-baby.
All of your dogs need the best sun protection possible. This is particularly true for service dogs who may be outside in direct sunlight for prolonged periods, dogs with medical conditions such as alopecia and specific breeds with shorter hair or bald patches such as a Chinese Crested.
After thorough research into the requirements for sunscreen to be safe and effective when used on dogs, SimplySunSafe recommends California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 30+ as the best sunscreen for dogs. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, a comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top five sunscreens for dogs.
To make sure your dog’s skin gets the sun protection it needs, and to ensure it is completely safe, there are several core features to look for:
Broad spectrum protection
The sun attacks human and dog skin in exactly the same way. For this reason, it is vital to look for a sunscreen with broad spectrum protection.
Broad spectrum means that a sunscreen will provide protection against both types of ultraviolet light which can harm your skin. You may sometimes see these sunscreens marketed as ‘UVA/UVB’ sunscreens.
- Ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) penetrates deeply into the skin. It doesn’t change the surface of the skin visibly beyond a slight reddening. However, every time skin is exposed to UVA it damages the DNA. Over time, the damage accumulates which leads to premature aging and can cause skin cancer.
- Ultraviolet B (UVB) damages the top layer of skin. It is UVB that causes the classic symptoms of sunburn, including redness, peeling, and blisters. Over time this, too, can lead to skin cancer.
When thinking about your dog, you need to protect them against both the short-term effects of sunburn as well as the long-term cancer risk.
Skin cancer and its treatment in dogs can cost thousands of dollars and cause them untold distress. Finding the right broad spectrum sunscreen is a great way to protect them from this.
Best SPF for Dogs
Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, is the key selling point for sunscreens. Unfortunately, it is a greatly misunderstood number, and the packaging of most sunscreens does little to help explain what it means.
And, as we’ll see shortly, it is even more complicated when it comes to dogs!
SPF tells you how much longer a human can stay in the sun without burning than they could if they didn’t use that sunscreen. So, if it usually takes me 10 minutes to burn and I apply an SPF 30 sunscreen, I can theoretically stay in the sun for 300 minutes.
Unfortunately, reality is not quite as simple as the theory! No sunscreen is effective after two hours, no matter what SPF it is. Also, there are many other factors which can shorten the amount of time you are protected, for example, how intense the sun is, or if you go for a swim.
To make matters worse, the SPF system was developed before we knew how damaging UVA could be. SPF only tells you about protection against UVB – there is no system indicating how effective a sunscreen is for UVA protection.
I used to believe that a much higher SPF would give me much greater protection, but this isn’t true. As you can see here, SPF 30 provides human skin with 97% protection against UVB. SPFs higher than 30 only provide a little more protection:
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
The FDA now only allows SPF rating as high as SPF 50+, to stop creating a false sense of security in people.
While a dog’s skin is similar to a human’s, it is not the same. No tests have been done to discover how effective SPFs are in protecting a dog’s skin from UVB.
In fact, while you may see SPFs listed on sunscreens designed for dogs, these are guesses. In either case, they will not tell you how much protection your dog will receive. As yet, there is no standard for measuring the effectiveness of sunscreen on a dog.
That said if you do find a product which is suitable for your dog and which does list an SPF, the same rule of thumb that applies to people also applies to dogs – aim for a higher SPF.
For products marketed specifically for dogs, you may see either no SPF listed or a low SPF (usually 15). This is okay, instead look for the correct active ingredients.
Physical is better than chemical
There are two main groups of active ingredients in sunscreens: physical and chemical.
- Physical sunscreens form a barrier on the skin which reflect ultraviolet light away
- Chemical sunscreens absorb the harmful rays as they reach the skin
Chemical sunscreens are associated with health issues in humans and dogs. Oxybenzone is known to alter sperm production in males, is associated with endometriosis in females and may even be a contributing factor in skin cancer.
Oxybenzone is also known to cause health problems in fish and can lead to coral reef bleaching. It may cause environmental damage when swimming in the sea or when it is washed off.
Octinoxate can disrupt thyroid production and may be a contributing factor to cancer in the long term.
Both Oxybenzone and Octinoxate are known to cause allergic reactions.
Physical sunscreens have several advantages over chemicals sunscreens:
- They offer broader UV protection (stop more light)
- They last longer in the sun as they do not degrade
- They are gentler on the skin and less likely to cause rashes
- They are reef safe and are less detrimental to fishes’ health
- In humans, they are not associated with negative health issues
There are two main physical sunscreens: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
I tend to recommend zinc oxide sunscreen for humans. However, in large doses, it can be toxic for dogs (though this isn’t true for all animals – see horse sunscreen). Even though zinc oxide is ok for pets in very small quantities, at SimplySunSafe I do not recommend using any sunscreen containing zinc oxide on your dog.
Additionally, be careful if you have a zinc oxide-based sunscreen on and your dog licks you.
Unfortunately, many sunscreens marketed for dogs contain only chemical ingredients. This is understandable given that zinc oxide must be avoided.
When reviewing human sunscreens, SimplySunSafe avoids recommending chemical-only sunscreens. However, when looking for the best sunscreen for dogs, I have no alternative but to include some chemical sunscreens.
When this is necessary, I discuss the ingredients extensively in the reviews below.
None of the top 5 recommended sunscreens for dogs includes oxybenzone, which is harmful both to mammals and marine life. Because of this, my top 5 does not include some of the more common sunscreens for dogs.
For example, the popular Epi-Pet Sun Protector Sunscreen for Dogs contains oxybenzone, listed as benzophenone-3.
Standards for dog sunscreens
Unlike sunscreens marketed for human use, there are no established standards for either the ingredients which may be used, or how their effectiveness can be measure.
This means we need to pay careful attention to the active ingredients of sunscreens for dogs to see if they will truly be safe and effective.
For example, the Beach & Dog Co Canine Sunscreen is advertised as not only being free of oxybenzone but also zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Instead, it contains coconut oil and grapeseed oil as active ingredients. As these have SPF values of only 8 and 4 respectively, I cannot recommend this product as an effective sunscreen for dogs.
Since there are no regulations for sunscreen for dogs, manufacturers are under no obligation to even list the active ingredients.
So, Gerrard Larriett Aromatherapy Pet Care Vitamin and Essential Oil Sunscreen and Skin Conditioner for Dogs lists only a proprietary ‘UV inhibitor blend’ the contents of which the company keeps a secret.
Of the other listed ingredients, neem oil has an SPF of 2, coconut oil 8 and jojoba oil 4. This is well short of comprehensive protection.
Additionally, it contains olive oil which has been used for centuries to promote a sun tan, not to block the sun’s rays. Again, this is not a product I can recommend.
Can you use human sunscreens on dogs?
As it can be difficult to find a high-quality sunscreen made specifically for dogs, it can be a good idea to try human sunscreen instead.
We need to be careful to avoid chemical sunscreens.
We also need to look carefully at whether the sunscreen contains zinc oxide and consider whether your dog will be spending much time outside. If your dog will be in the sun more than very occasionally, a zinc oxide sunscreen must be avoided.
When looking for the best human sunscreen for dogs, I have found success with sunscreens designed for babies and children, which tend to contain gentler ingredients and are less harmful if ingested. After all, dogs do tend to lick themselves!
When recommending human sunscreens for dogs, I prefer ones which contain titanium dioxide as the main active ingredient.
Applying sunscreen to a dog
Unlike us humans, dogs have a natural SPF protector which covers most of their body: fur!
Unless the fur is very short or there are bald patches, you don’t need to apply sunscreen to these areas.
The most important places to apply sunscreen are the nose and on the belly area on the delicate stretch of skin which goes from the belly to the hind legs.
This is especially important if your dog loves to stretch out on his or her back in the sun!
Make sure to test the sunscreen on a small section of skin first, just to make sure there are no negative reactions!
In addition to sunscreen, make sure your dog has a shady place to hang out and lots of water.
If your dog has very fine fur or has recently been shaved, you may want to buy a doggie t-shirt with SPF protection, too.
Best Sunscreen for Dogs Comparison
|California Baby Super Sensitive||Ocean Potion Babies & Sensitive||Petkin Doggy Sunstick||Rocky Mountain Kids Spray||Doggles Pet Sunscreen|
|Active ingredients||Titanium Dioxide (12%)||Avobenzone (3%), Homosalate (15%), Octisalate (5%), Octocrylene (7%)||Titanium Dioxide (6%)||Avobenzone (3%), Homosalate (15%), Octisalate (5%), Octocrylene (10%)||Octinoxate (concentration not listed)|
|Water resistance||80 minutes||80 minutes||No||80 minutes||No|
5 Best Sunscreens for Dogs
After thorough research combining a discussion of the issues with customers, analysis of customer feedback, an examination of manufacturer ingredients and specifications, research in medical journals and also participation in pet forums, SimplySunSafe has chosen the 5 best sunscreens for dogs.
These five sunscreens provide broad spectrum protection, are physical sunscreens using titanium dioxide (not zinc oxide), are oxybenzone-free, and are either products designed for dogs or are sensitive enough to be used on dogs.
Although designed for humans, California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 30+ is an ideal sunscreen for dogs.
Not only is it free of all chemicals, but it is also free of zinc oxide which may cause health issues in dogs when consumed in large doses. The active ingredient, titanium dioxide, is of the formula which will provide your canine with the broad spectrum protection he or she needs.
California Baby Super Sensitive was initially developed to cater to a baby’s super-sensitive skin. It contains no fragrance or any scent masking agents and has been formulated not to sting the eyes, which is an important consideration when working with dogs.
California Baby’s mission is to create products using the purest and most sustainable methods and ingredients. Their Super Sensitive Sunscreen is 100% vegan, contains organic ingredients and is PABA-free.
For 10 years, from 2007-2016 it has been picked as a Top Safe Sunscreen Pick by the Environmental Working Group. It was even reviewed by TIME magazine in 2015 as a highly effective ‘natural block star!’
California Baby Super Sensitive is a thick cream. It tends to leave a white cast without carefully rubbing the product into the skin.
Remember that on dogs, this will be used on sensitive areas such as the nose. If your dog’s nose is a darker color, it may well leave a light cast. In this case, it is better to leave a slight sheen than rub too hard on the sensitive nose area. Your dog won’t mind!
Another advantage of California Baby Super Sensitive is that it is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. This is great for dogs as they love splashing around in the sea or even the pool!
The sunscreen remains effective even after time in the water, this is a great feature although it makes the sunscreen a little difficult to remove.
While titanium dioxide is one of the few active sunscreen ingredients which is both safe to use and non-toxic to dogs, care should be taken to make sure your pet does not ingest the product.
The odd lick is okay, but when consumed in large quantities, titanium dioxide may give dogs tummy ache.
While California Baby Super Sensitive may seem to be in the higher price range, not only does a little go a long way, but also, you only need to apply sunscreen to the exposed or tender areas of your pet dogs.
As a result, California Baby Super Sensitive represents good value for money and is SimplySunSafe’s top pick for best natural sunscreen for dogs.
- Water resistant for 80 minutes
- Designed for super sensitive skin
- May be difficult to remove
Even though Ocean Potion Protect and Nourish Babies & Sensitive Sunscreen is a chemical-based sunscreen, it is one I feel comfortable recommending for use on dogs.
It is PABA free, cruelty-free, paraben free and, most importantly, oxybenzone free. All Ocean Potion’s products have received the seal for ‘Safe and Effective Sun Protection’ from the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Designed to cater for sensitive or tender skin, Ocean Potion Babies and Sensitive makes an ideal choice for your dog. It is unscented, non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic. It is very easy to apply. Since it is a thin cream, there’s no need to rub hard on your dog’s delicate nose! Plus, it leaves no white cast on the skin.
The product does sting slightly if you get it too near the eye-area. It is important to be especially careful in this area. If your dog has thin fur in this area or burns around the eye, you may want to consider a different form of protection for that area, either one of my other recommendations or a pair of doggles, sunglasses for dogs!
Ocean Potion Babies & Sensitive is water resistant for up to 80 minutes, which is great if your dog loves to splash around in the water or ocean. As this product is oxybenzone free, you can be sure that if your dog does go into the sea, it will not harm marine life or coral reefs.
Additionally, this sunscreen is long-lasting this, even after spending time in the water. Once they are on the beach and having fun, I have found it hard to persuade dogs to come back to have sunscreen reapplied, so this is good to know.
Ocean Potion Babies & Sensitive Sunscreen receives a rating of 3 on the Environmental Working Group’s site. For humans, I usually only recommend products with a rating of 1 or 2.
While I would not recommend this product for human use, I feel that it offers great sun protection for your dog while avoiding both toxic zinc oxide and the most harmful chemical sunscreens, oxybenzone.
- Water resistant for up to 80 minutes
- Designed for sensitive and tender skin
- Contains chemical sunscreens
- May cause irritation in the eye-area
Petkin Doggy Sunstick SPF 15 is one of the few products aimed at canines which uses only titanium dioxide as its active ingredient. This is good as it means we know this physical sunscreen is non-toxic to canines.
With a 6% concentration, this would be the equivalent of SPF 15 in humans. However, this does not mean that the SPF for a dog’s skin is actually 15 as there has been no testing.
A great advantage of this product is that it has been designed with application to a dog’s nose in mind. It is a soft stick and easy to apply by dabbing it on your dog’s nose or ears with minimal pressure.
The experience of myself and others has been that dogs do not back away from this product and seem to either like the vanilla coconut smell or they ignore it. Because of this, Petkin Doggy Sunstick may be the best sunscreen for your dog’s nose.
While Petkin Doggy Sunstick is not advertised as a water resistant product, it remains in place even after a dog licks at it. I would, however, recommend reapplying after your dog has paddled around in the water!
Petkin Doggy Sunstick is not designed to be rubbed into a dog’s skin: it will leave a white cast behind. This is not something your dog will notice or mind. In fact, I have found it to be a good thing as I can easily see if the sunscreen needs reapplying.
Some users have noted that they have received comments on their dog’s white nose, or even that their dog looks like a lifeguard!
SimplySunSafe recommends using the Sunstick.
The Sunwipes contain a 1% concentration of titanium dioxide along with chemicals such as octinoxate and benzophenone-3. Although they contain chemical sunscreens, the Sunwipes may be useful to reapply sunscreen after time in the water.
However, I cannot recommend the Sunmist as it contains oxybenzone.
Since Petkin Doggy Sunstick was developed for dogs, it has not received a rating by the Environmental Working Group as they only test sunscreens for humans.
The active ingredient titanium dioxide scores a positive 2 on their Hazard Scale (a lower number is better). However, this product does contain propylparaben. The longer chain parabens such as propylparaben are associated with allergic reactions and may potentially cause cancer.
For this reason, I cannot recommend Petkin Doggy Sunstick any higher than third place on the top 5.
- Easy application
- Non-toxic to dogs
- Remains in place even after licking
- Low active ingredient concentration
- Contains propylparaben
- Not advertised as water-resistant
Rocky Mountain Kids Sunscreen Spray SPF 50 is another chemical-based sunscreen for children which works well on dogs.
Rocky Mountain is a Colorado-based company which focuses on providing broad spectrum and fragrance free sunscreens which meet FDA standards. Designed for children, Rocky Mountain Kids Spray is hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic.
Although chemical-based, Rocky Mountain Sunscreen Kids Sunscreen Spray, SPF 50 is oxybenzone, PABA, paraben, silicone and gluten free. Additionally, it is free of retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A often found in chemical sunscreens which may lead to skin cancer.
As it is a thin liquid, this sunscreen is non-greasy and easy to apply.
Please note that, although this comes in a spray bottle, this should not be sprayed directly onto your dog. If you do so, it is possible your dog will inhale the sunscreen. I recommend spraying some product into your hand and gently dabbing it on. This doesn’t take very long as you only need to apply to exposed skin or areas with thin fur.
Rocky Mountain Kids Spray comes in a gigantic quart-sized jug. Many users have found it more convenient if they pour some into smaller bottles when traveling.
One quart will last you several years. It is advertised as having a 3-year shelf-life. If your dog only ventures into the sun rarely, this sunscreen may not represent the best value for you.
As well as being 80-minute water resistant, this is a great sunscreen when camping or hiking as it offers good longevity. This makes it a solid choice for active dogs.
When testing for humans, the Environmental Working Group gives Rocky Mountain Kids Spray a rating of 3, which is lower than I usually recommend at SimplySunSafe.
However, as long as you do not directly spray the product onto your dog, but use your hand instead, it represents a good compromise of ingredients which can provide your dog with the sun protection he or she needs without being toxic.
- Water resistant for up to 80 minutes
- Hypoallergenic and fragrance-free
- Easy to apply thin liquid
- Contains chemical sunscreens
- Can’t directly apply spray
- Quart-sized bottle
One of the most popular sunscreens marketed for dogs is Doggles Pet Sunscreen.
Doggles originally produced sunglasses specifically for dogs, designed to protect a dog’s eyes from harmful ultraviolet light. They have since expanded to include this sunscreen which has been extensively tested to make sure it is safe on dogs.
The active ingredient is octinoxate, which scores a 6 on the Environmental Working Group’s rating system (that’s not great). Because there are no regulations for sunscreens, Doggles does not list the concentration of octinoxate in their ingredient listing.
In humans, octinoxate is known to cause skin allergies in a small number of people and it may alter the way the thyroid functions. Its specific long-term effects on dogs are unknown.
With human sunscreens, I would not normally recommend a sunscreen with octinoxate in it. However, as there are so few quality sunscreens suitable for dogs, and because Doggles Pet Sunscreen has been so well-received by the community, SimplySunSafe recommends this product with reservations.
For this reason, I cannot rank Doggles Pet Sunscreen any higher than fifth position in the top 5.
Although this comes in a small spray bottle, Doggles recommends spraying the product onto your fingers and then gently rubbing it onto your dog. You can also use a soft cloth.
The product goes on easily and quickly though you may find you waste a lot when applying because the product is so thin. Be careful during application to ensure none of the liquid is directly ingested.
Doggles Pet Sunscreen dries quickly and is safe for the dog to lick after it has dried. It comes in two varieties: the unscented version, which I prefer, and a tropically scented version. Other than the scent, the two products are identical.
Surprisingly, for a sunscreen marketed for dogs, Doggles Pet Sunscreen is not advertised as water resistant.
A non-oily spray, this sunscreen is water-soluble. In researching this product, I connected with other users but none had let their dogs spend much time in water. For this reason, I recommend reapplying this product thoroughly if your dog goes for a swim.
A few users have noted that their dogs have a light skin reaction to Doggle Pet Sunscreen. This is likely the result of octinoxate being the active ingredient as it is also known to cause similar reactions in people.
I recommend testing Doggles Pet Sunscreen on a small area of skin first to see if it causes your dog any problems.
- Thoroughly tested on dogs
- Highly regarded in the community
- Liquid is easy to apply
- Contains octinoxate
- Can’t directly apply spray
- Not water resistant
I wrote this guide to help you when choosing the best sunscreen for dogs. I hope you have found it useful in understanding what to look for when buying a sunscreen for your dog.
Based on the specific needs dogs have, SimplySunSafe recommends California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 30+ as the safest and most protective sunscreen for dogs. All dogs are different, and it could be that one of the other recommendations will work best for your companion!
If you have experience with dog sunscreen or using human sunscreen on dogs, let me know what you’ve discovered in the comments. I’ll look into it and might just add your recommendation to this top 5!