When it comes to protecting your baby from sun exposure, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends protective clothing and shade as the first line of defense. When these options aren't available, parents should apply small amounts of sunscreen to exposed areas such as the face and hands on infants under 6 months old. For infants older than 6 months, sunscreen can be applied to all areas of the body.
Tips for staying safe in the sun
For babies younger than 6 months old:
- Avoid direct sunlight.
- Make shade with a canopy or umbrella. Many strollers and some baby carriers have canopies attached, so don’t forget to use them.
- Think coverage. Dress young infants in weather-appropriate lightweight clothes (long pants, long-sleeved shirt, wide-brimmed hats).
- Use as little sunscreen as possible. If shade and long clothes are not available, parents may apply a small dab of sunscreen to limited areas (e.g., face, back of hands). The AAP recommends that any sunscreen be at least 15 SPF; many other sources suggest 30–50 SPF.
- Avoid SPF sunscreens higher than 30–50 SPF. The EWG and FDA note that although many high-SPF products are marketed for use with babies and children, these increase exposure to ingredients without providing added protection.
- Be alert for signs of dehydration. Feed young infants frequently with breast milk or formula; additional water is not advised.
For children and babies older than 6 months old:
- Think coverage. Lightweight clothes, wide-brimmed hats, and UV-protective sunglasses are good for everyone.
- Avoid sunlight during peak hours. The AAP conservatively identifies “peak hours” as between “10 a.m. and 4 p.m.” Use your judgment, and consider the particular details of your location (such as altitude).
- Use ample sunscreen. Apply it 20–30 minutes before you head outdoors, so it has time to take effect before sun exposure. Reapply sunscreen often. Water will wash it off; sweat will erode it; sunlight will break it down.
- Reapply as often as needed. The AAP recommends at least every two hours.
- Choose products with an SPF rating in the 30–50 range.
- Limit time in the sun. Many people think that products with a higher SPF mean they can stay in the sun longer. Actually, even those with high SPF ratings provide limited protection against harmful ultraviolet rays. Instead, limit your time in direct sunlight.
- Use SPF lip balm. Lips need sun protection, too.
- Use a daily moisturizer with SPF when indoors near bright windows. Ultraviolet rays penetrate windows and can damage unprotected skin.
- Avoid combination products. It may seem more convenient to use a bug spray/sunscreen-in-one, but the required reapplication of sunscreen would expose your baby to higher levels of pesticide. Wait at least 15 minutes after you apply the sunscreen to apply bug spray.
- Avoid sunscreen spray and powder products. The risks of inhaling vaporized sunscreen are unknown and coverage is variable.**
- Buy new sunscreen each year. While it may seem wasteful, the active ingredients in sunscreen do degrade over time. For full protection, use a fresh product. The Environmental Working Group publishes an annual guide to the best sunscreen products. Click here to find the best sunscreen for your children.
- Consider vitamin D. Talk with your child’s pediatrician about supplementation, as well as safe sun exposure. Those who want to get vitamin D naturally through sun exposure must have some sunblock-free time, perhaps 10–15 minutes each day during non-peak hours.
**While the AAP does not distinguish between sunscreens by type, spray-on versus lotion, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) cautions against spray-on sunscreens due to concerns about inhalation and inadequate coverage. EWG is especially concerned about inhalation of nano-sized and micronized zinc and titanium in powdered sunscreens. If you want the benefits of a mineral sunscreen, choose a zinc- or titanium-based lotion. If you use a pump or spray sunscreen, lower your inhalation risk by applying it to your hands and then wiping it on your face.