Sunscreen for Babies: When to Use and What’s Safest

Protecting your baby’s delicate skin from the sun is crucial, but the guidelines for using sunscreen on infants can be confusing. This comprehensive guide will help you understand when it’s appropriate to use sunscreen on your baby and what types are safest.

Understanding Infant Skin Sensitivity

Babies have much more sensitive skin than older children and adults. Their skin is thinner, more permeable, and less capable of handling the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Because of this, infants are at a higher risk of sunburn, which can cause pain, dehydration, and increased sensitivity to sun exposure in the future. Long-term, severe sunburns in childhood can also elevate the risk of skin cancer later in life.

When to Use Sunscreen on Babies

The general consensus among pediatric experts is that sunscreen should be avoided for babies under six months old. This recommendation stems from the potential risks associated with the chemicals found in many sunscreens, which can be more easily absorbed through a baby’s thinner skin and may cause irritation or allergic reactions.
For infants younger than six months, the best approach to sun protection is to keep them out of direct sunlight as much as possible. This can be achieved through:

1. Seeking Shade:

Use umbrellas, canopies, or the shade of trees to protect your baby from direct sunlight, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is at its hottest.

2. Clothing:

Dress your baby in lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and a wide-brimmed hat that covers their face, neck, and ears.

3. Stroller Canopies:

Ensure that the stroller has a sun-protective cover to shield your baby from UV rays.
If it’s absolutely necessary to be in the sun for a brief period and there is no way to avoid exposure, a small amount of sunscreen on limited areas, such as the face and back of the hands, may be permissible. Always consult with a pediatrician before doing so.

Safe Sunscreen Options for Babies Over Six Months

Once your baby is over six months old, sunscreen can be used more freely but with caution. Here are some guidelines to follow:

1. Choose Mineral-Based Sunscreens:

Mineral sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens, contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These ingredients sit on top of the skin and reflect UV rays rather than being absorbed. They are less likely to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions, making them a safer choice for babies.

2. Broad-Spectrum Protection:

Select a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are responsible for sunburns, while UVA rays can penetrate deeper into the skin, causing premature aging and increasing the risk of skin cancer.

3. SPF 30 or Higher:

Use a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30. Higher SPF values offer greater protection, but no sunscreen can block 100% of UV rays.

4. Water-Resistant Formulas:

Babies often play in water or sweat, so water-resistant sunscreens are beneficial. These formulas adhere better to the skin even when wet, though reapplication is still necessary after swimming or sweating.

5. Avoid Harmful Chemicals:

Look for sunscreens free of oxybenzone, octinoxate, and other potentially harmful chemicals. These substances can be absorbed into the skin and may have hormone-disrupting effects. Opt for formulations that are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free to minimize the risk of irritation.

Proper Application of Sunscreen on Babies

Correct application is key to ensuring your baby is well-protected:

1. Use Kindly:

Make sure all exposed skin is covered with sunscreen. For a baby, a teaspoon for the face and a shot glass for the body is a good guideline.

2. Apply Before Exposure:

Apply sunscreen about 15-30 minutes before going outside to allow it to form a protective layer.

3. Reapply Regularly:

Reapply sunscreen every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating. Even water-resistant sunscreens need reapplication to maintain effectiveness.

4. Cover All Exposed Areas:

Don’t forget often-missed spots such as the ears, back of the neck, tops of the feet, and hands.

Additional Sun Safety Tips

In addition to using sunscreen, here are some additional tips to keep your baby safe from the sun:

1. UV-Protective Clothing:

Consider clothing with built-in UV protection. Many brands offer swimsuits, hats, and cover-ups designed to block UV rays.

2. Sunglasses:

Baby-sized sunglasses with UV protection can help protect your baby’s sensitive eyes from sun damage.

3. Monitor UV Index:

Be aware of the UV index in your area. On days when the UV index is high, try to limit outdoor activities during peak sun hours.

4. Hydration:

Ensure your baby stays hydrated, especially on hot days. Breastfeed or offer formula more frequently, as babies can become dehydrated quickly.


Protecting your baby from the sun’s harmful rays is essential for their health and well-being. For babies under six months, avoid sunscreen and rely on shade, clothing, and stroller canopies. Once your baby is over six months old, choose a safe, mineral-based sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection and an SPF of 30 or higher. Remember to apply it correctly and reapply as needed. By following these guidelines and additional sun safety tips, you can enjoy the outdoors with your baby while keeping their skin safe from harm.