Baby Sunscreen: A Parent’s Guide

Heading to the beach or the park? Or just planning on spending time outside? It's time to think about sun protection. The outdoors is fun for baby to explore, but you'll need to make sure that you shield them from the sun's harmful rays.

25% of a person's lifetime sun exposure happens during childhood. And while time outdoors is awesome for baby's development, too much unprotected sun exposure could damage the skin – or even put your little one at risk for skin cancer later in life.

But is sunscreen the best way to protect baby from the sun's harmful UV rays, or should you use other methods to shield them from the sun first? What to keep in mind when choosing baby sunscreen? How and when to apply baby sunscreen? And what are some of the best baby sunscreen options? We have all the answers here in this parent's guide.

Sunscreen For Babies Under 6 Months Of Age

Babies under 6 months of age have skin that’s especially vulnerable to the sun’s rays. But these youngest babies’ skin is also very sensitive to the ingredients in sunscreen.

Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that you should only apply very minimal amounts of sunscreen to babies under 6 months of age. Choose only sunscreen that’s labeled as “for babies,” that has an SPF of 30 to 50, and that offers “broad-spectrum” protection against both UVA and UVB rays. And only apply it to baby’s face, the tops of their feet, and the backs of their hands.

Since you’ll need to limit the sunscreen you apply, you must protect baby from the sun in other ways. Cover the rest of baby’s body with sun-protective clothing, including a hat with a wide brim, sunglasses with a UV protection rating, a light, long-sleeved top, and light, long bottoms. You could choose special UV protective gear (UPF gear), or simply opt for any lightweight cotton clothing.

Strictly limit baby’s sun exposure: keep them in the shade as much as you can, whether that’s under an umbrella, under a shade tent, on a porch, under a tree, or in some other shady spot. Always keep your baby out of direct sunlight. Fortunately, this should be easy if you have a young baby, as your baby isn’t very mobile yet.

Sunscreen For Babies 6-12 Months Of Age

Once baby is 6 months old, you can start applying sunscreen anywhere on their body that’s uncovered. Just be extra careful around baby’s eyes.

The sunscreen you use should still be made for babies, should have an SPF of at least 30, and should offer “broad-spectrum” protection.

It’s still best to cover as much of baby’s body with protective clothing as you can – and it’s also best to keep them in the shade as often as you can.

It’s ok if babies are exposed to small amounts of direct sunlight at this age, as long as it’s not too frequent. But limit sun exposure when the UV rays are strongest – between 10 AM and 4 PM. Stay inside, or keep baby in the shade, during those times.

Choosing Baby Sunscreen

How to choose the best sunscreen for baby? Follow these tips. They apply for all babies, from newborns to 12-month-olds.

The baby sunscreen you choose should:

  • Be designed for babies, and labeled as baby sunscreen
  • Have an SPF between 30 and 50
  • Provide “broad-spectrum” protection, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays
  • Have no phthalates or parabens, as they can aggravate babies’ sensitive skin
  • Have no oxybenzone: this ingredient could be harmful to coral reefs, and could have negative hormonal effects on baby
  • Not be combined with bug repellent, as combined sunscreen-bug repellent mixtures are less effective
  • Ideally, only have zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients, as these ingredients are gentlest for baby’s skin
    • These mineral-based ingredients aren’t absorbed by the skin – they sit on top of the skin and help defend it against the sun’s rays.
    • So, they’re considered “physical sunscreens”
    • Zinc oxide is the same ingredient as in diaper rash cream!
    • Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are least likely to be skin irritants if baby has sensitive skin (including if baby is under 6 months old or has eczema)
    • Still, sunscreen with any active ingredient is better than no sunscreen at all
  • Ideally, have no fragrances or dyes
  • Ideally, not be an aerosol, as it may not coat baby’s skin as well in windy weather or if baby moves a lot. Aerosols also involve chemicals that baby could breathe in accidentally. A squeezable or stick sunscreen is a better choice.

Best Baby Sunscreen Options

Thinkbaby Sunscreen (SPF 50)

think baby SPF 50 sunscreen

  • Active ingredient is zinc oxide
  • No phthalates, parabens, or oxybenzone
  • Broad-spectrum – protects against UVA and UVB rays
  • Often recommended by dermatologists
  • Consistently makes it onto top baby sunscreen lists

Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin (SPF 50)

aveeno baby continuous protection 50 SPF sunscreen

  • Active ingredient is zinc oxide
  • Designed for babies with eczema and other skin sensitivities
  • Earned the Seal of Acceptance from the National Eczema Association
  • Free from fragrances, dyes, phthalates, parabens, and oxybenzone
  • Broad-spectrum – protects against UVA and UVB rays

Blue Lizard Baby Mineral Sunscreen

blue lizard australian sunscreen 50 SPF

  • Active ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide
  • Frequently recommended by pediatricians
  • No phthalates, parabens, fragrances, or oxybenzone
  • Broad-spectrum – protects against UVA and UVB rays
  • Bottle changes color when exposed to UV rays, as a reminder to reapply

Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen (SPF 50)

Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen (SPF 50)

  • Active ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide
  • Ideal for babies with eczema and other skin sensitivities
  • Earned the Seal of Acceptance from the National Eczema Association
  • Often recommended by dermatologists
  • Comes in both squeeze tube and stick forms – the stick is great for applying to the face
  • Free from fragrances, dyes, phthalates, parabens, and oxybenzone
  • Broad-spectrum – protects against UVA and UVB rays

Baby Waxhead Zinc Oxide Sunscreen (SPF 35)

Baby Waxhead Zinc Oxide Sunscreen (SPF 35)

  • Active ingredient is zinc oxide
  • Broad-spectrum – protects against UVA and UVB rays
  • Made with only six easy-to-understand ingredients (zinc oxide, water, olive oil, beeswax, and vitamins E and D3)
  • Free from fragrances, dyes, phthalates, parabens, and oxybenzone
  • Gentle on the skin, so works well if baby is very young or their skin is sensitive
  • Free from gluten, soy, dairy, peanuts and tree nuts – allergy-friendly

How To Apply Baby Sunscreen?

Apply sunscreen any time you and your baby spend time outside. Apply it even on cloudy days, as up to 80% of the sun's UV rays can still pass through the clouds.

And if any of baby's skin is exposed, slather on the sunscreen no matter the season. Even though we associate sunscreen with summer days, UV exposure can harm the skin year-round – yes, even in winter.

Here's how to apply baby sunscreen:

  • Test a small amount of sunscreen on baby's skin 2 days before you plan to use it outside, to make sure it doesn't irritate baby's skin.
    • If it does irritate baby's skin, look for a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide formula, as they're least likely to cause a rash.
    • Or, if needed, ask your pediatrician about "sensitive skin" sunscreen.
  • Once you've "approved" a sunscreen for baby, plan to apply the sunscreen before you go outside.
    • 15-30 minutes before heading outdoors is best. That's because it takes time for the sunscreen to settle in and take effect.
  • Dress baby in protective clothing first, including a wide-brimmed hat, light clothing, and sunglasses.
  • Then, apply sunscreen to the remaining exposed areas of baby's skin. Rub it in well!
    • If baby is younger than 6 months old, only apply small amounts of sunscreen to baby’s face, the tops of their feet, and the backs of their hands. Cover all other areas with protective clothing.
    • If baby is 6 months old or older, apply enough sunscreen to cover all the exposed areas of baby's body. About half a shot glass worth of sunscreen, every time you apply, is recommended for these babies.
  • Pay special attention to the face, ears, nose, and backs of knees (if the backs of knees are exposed).
  • Be extra careful about applying sunscreen to baby's face, so you don't get it in baby's eyes.
    • If baby is especially squirmy, try distracting them with a toy as you apply the sunscreen. Or, wait until they've settled down.
    • If sunscreen does get in baby's eyes, use a damp, clean cloth to gently wipe baby's eyes and hands.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours.
    • Reapply more often if baby is sweating a lot.
    • And if baby swims or otherwise gets wet, reapply sunscreen right after they're done in the water. No sunscreen is truly waterproof!

Keeping baby safe in the sun

Remember that, for all babies, shade is the best defense against the sun's UV rays. Seek shade whenever you can.

Protective clothing is your baby's second line of defense, especially if they're too young for much sunscreen.

And if baby spends time in the sun, make sure they stay hydrated. That means feeding a breastfed baby on demand, frequently feeding a formula-fed baby, and giving baby small amounts of water if they are at least 6 months old.

If baby does get a sunburn, or seems dehydrated, move them inside right away and immediately call a doctor. Keep them out of the sun until their burn heals or they've fully recovered.

Introduce Allergens Safely and Easily with Ready. Set. Food!

All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.