Sunscreen and Sun Protection for Babies: What Parents Need to Know
by Kim Conte
Medically Reviewed by Jessica Wu, M.D. on November 18, 2020
If you’re heading outside with your baby, protecting your little one from the sun’s bright rays is extra important because that sensitive baby skin is extra susceptible to serious burns.
The best form of sun protection is prevention, so try to stay inside or in the shade when the sun is at its strongest, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If you do need to be outside in the sun during those times, be sure to take extra precautions, including applying sunscreen.
Here’s some advice about when babies can start wearing sunscreen and how to choose one that’s safe.
When can babies wear sunscreen?
Sunscreen recommendations are different for younger and older babies, so consider your baby’s age before you start slathering.
For newborns and babies under 6 months: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends keeping babies under 6 months out of direct sunlight. However, when shade is not available, it’s okay to apply a minimal amount of baby-safe sunscreen with an SPF of 30 to 50 (and no lower than SPF 15) to small areas of your baby’s body, such as the face, the back of the hands, and the tops of the feet, starting when the child is a newborn.
For babies 6 months of age and older: Apply SPF 30 to 50 sunscreen made for children to all exposed areas of the body.
For all babies: Apply a small amount of the sunscreen you’re planning to use on a patch of your baby’s skin 48 hours before you go out to test for potential irritation. If your child develops a rash, talk to your pediatrician about special sensitive skin formulas.
Be extra cautious around your child’s face. If your little one is squirmy, wait until she’s calmer or distract her with a toy before applying. If sunscreen does get in her eyes, wipe them gently along with her little hands using a clean, damp cloth.
One more thing to note: Sunscreen should be used year-round. Even in winter, the snow’s glare and the sun’s rays can combine to cause serious burns. And remember, clouds don’t block UV rays, they just filter them. The bottom line? Sunscreen is a must any time your baby is outside.
How much sunscreen should baby wear?
For babies 6 months and older, spread a liberal amount of sunscreen, about half a shot glass worth, all over any exposed skin 15 to 30 minutes before you go outside. Don’t skimp — in this case, more is definitely better.
For babies under 6 months old, a small amount on exposed areas is the recommendation. Pay special attention to the nose and ears, and protect the lips with lip balm that has SPF 15 or higher in it.
Reapply sunscreen about every two hours if it’s waterproof and more often if you’re outside for long periods of time, if your baby gets wet, or the sunscreen isn’t water-resistent.
Just keep in mind that sunscreen wears off after swimming or sweating, even if it’s waterproof, and can take up to 30 minutes to be effective after it’s applied.
What kind of sunscreen is safe for baby?
Some sunscreens are better for your baby than others. Here are a few tips for buying a product that’s both safe and effective:
Try to choose a formula that’s specifically for babies or children and waterproof, even if your tot won’t be getting wet.
To prevent rashes, check the ingredients for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These hypoallergenic ingredients sit on top of the skin rather than being absorbed by it like chemical sunscreens.
The label should say “broad-spectrum,” meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
Opt for an SPF of 30 to 50 (and no lower than 15). Experts recommend against products that contain an SPF above 50 because they may not be any more effective than lower SPFs, and could lead parents to believe they don’t have to reapply as often.
Avoid sunscreens containing insect repellents, since they’re less effective. If you need repellent (and your baby is older than 2 months and your pediatrician gives you the go-ahead), buy it separately and spray it on only after you apply sunscreen.
Tips for protecting babies from the sun
Planning to spend some quality time outside with your baby? Protect her from the heat and sun by taking the following steps:
Stay inside during peak sun hours, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., as much as possible.
Stay in a shaded area whenever you can.
Cover as much skin as possible with loose clothing that has a tight-weave (in other words, nothing see-through).
Don’t forget a wide-brimmed hat (if your little one will keep it on!) and, if your baby will let you put them on her, sunglasses that provide protection against UVA and UVB rays.
Never drape a blanket over the top of the stroller, since it poses the risk of suffocation and overheating. Instead, use the stroller’s shade to shield your baby, or boost the protection with a special parasol fixed onto the side.
Make sure you keep your baby hydrated with breast milk or formula if she’s under 6 months old and with milk and a little water if she’s 6 months or older.
Finally, be smart about spending time in the hot summer sun. Watch for signs of dehydration (fussiness, redness, excessive crying) and signs of sunburn. If your child’s skin does get red or burned, move her to the shade right away and apply a cold compress to the pink patches as soon as you can.
If baby does look like she may have gotten a sunburn after some time has passed, or you have other questions about baby sun exposure, talk to your pediatrician.