Sun Protection for Babies

baby sun hat
Photo by Calek/Shutterstock

For many parents, sunscreen wasn’t a staple in our beach bag. Back then, we weren’t taught much about the dangers of overexposure to the sun. Today, parents are more informed about risks such as cancer or damaged skin, and most adults practice safe sunscreen habits with their kids. But as summer approaches, it’s always a good idea to buff up on healthy sun tips for babies.

Can my newborn wear sunscreen?

Baby skin is sensitive and still very delicate, so most doctors don’t recommend using sunscreen before 6 months old. Instead, parents should rely on other forms of sun protection—such as shade from an umbrella, a stroller canopy, or a pop-up tent. For additional relief, try a clip-on fan for a stroller or lounge chair. Infants should also wear brimmed hats and sunglasses if possible. Dress them in lightweight UVA/UVB protective or UPF- (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) containing clothing, and make sure they don’t get overheated. This is especially important between the hours of 10am and 4pm, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. 

If you can’t avoid the sun, it’s safe to apply a small amount of sunscreen to small, exposed areas, such as an infant’s face or the back of her hands. Check with your pediatrician about this and also refer to the sunscreen guidelines below.

How do I keep my baby protected from the sun?

The Mayo Clinic says it’s safe for babies to wear sunscreen after 6 months and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a history of sunburns, especially in youth, can increase the risk of skin cancer later in life. So, don’t forget to follow these rules for the whole family.

  • Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going outside.
  • Use a lotion which contains 30 SPF or higher.
  • Apply sunscreen generously to all exposed skin every two hours or after getting wet. Do this even if it’s cloudy; clouds don’t absorb all the harmful UV radiation.
  • Use a mineral-based sunscreen containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which prevent skin and eye irritation in babies. Zinc will act as a barrier against the sun and won’t be absorbed into your baby’s pores.
  • Water-resistant sunscreen is ideal.
  • Everyone, regardless of skin-tone, should wear sunscreen.

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Do I need sunscreen specifically made for babies?

“If you are using a mineral sunscreen that has limited ingredients, you don’t necessarily need one labeled ‘for babies/children’,” according to Orit Markowitz, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of OptiSkin in Manhattan. “However, it can be easier for parents to look for a baby/kid safe label if they are unsure.” 

Dr. Markowitz notes that babies older than 6 months and small children tend to have more sensitive skin, so she recommends parents use mineral blockers with pure ingredients (like zinc or titanium dioxide) instead of chemical sunscreens that contain micro-size particles that are absorbed by a young child’s delicate pores. “Mineral or physical sunscreens sit on top of the skin making it a better option for babies, children, and even adults with sensitive skin as you are less likely to have a reaction,” she explains.  

Many popular sunscreen brands have baby- and child-specific options. Test a new brand of sunscreen on a small section of your baby’s skin and a wait for a couple of minutes to see if there is a reaction before applying more. Some brands sell baby sunscreen in solid form called sunscreen sticks (which look like mini deodorant) and are especially useful for wiggly babies’ faces. You will also find various options that may meet personal preferences, such as hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, paraben-free, or vegan.

How do I keep my toddler protected from the sun? 

Even as babies age, they can be burned easily in direct sunlight and become overheated quickly. Continue to keep your child in the shade as much as possible, reapply sunscreen, and maintain the sun-protective behaviors you started at 6 months old. Also, your child may be swimming and playing in water at this age, so don’t forget to reapply after they get wet, and/or after two hours of exposure. 

And finally, our favorite tip: Go outside and have a blast with your little ones!

fun with nanny
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Alison Leighton spent a decade in marketing at Fortune 500 Financial Institutions before leaving that world to focus on the hardest job out there: being a parent. She now does freelance writing and marketing and is the founder of Social Parent NYC, which hosts events for parents and their babies/toddlers. Follow the brand to get creative parenting inspiration about travel and activities on Instagram and Facebook: @SocialParentNYC. She lives in NYC with her husband and son and spends a lot of time reading Corduroy and wondering why Play-Doh smells so good.

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