The Right Way To Apply Sunscreen To Baby (Hint: It May Surprise You!)

July is UV Safety Month. Whenever you take baby outdoors, it’s vital to protect their skin from the sun’s UV rays, including with sunscreen.

How to make sure that all of baby’s body is protected when out in the sun? There’s a right way to apply sunscreen to baby – and it may surprise you. Learn how to apply baby sunscreen, step by step.

Whenever you take baby to the park, the beach, or anywhere outdoors, it’s vital to protect their skin from the sun’s UV rays. Too much unprotected exposure to these rays could harm baby’s skin – or even increase their risk of developing skin cancer when they’re older.

One way to protect baby’s skin from these harmful UV rays is by applying sunscreen. But how to make sure that all of baby’s body is protected when out in the sun? There’s a right way to apply sunscreen to baby – and it may surprise you.

The right way to apply sunscreen to baby depends on how old they are. Today, we’ll show you how to apply baby sunscreen, step by step.

Fundamentals Of Applying Sunscreen

Any time you and your baby spend time outside, you’ll need to protect their skin from UV rays. On cloudy days, baby still needs sunscreen – up to 80% of the sun's UV rays pass through clouds.

It’s also vital to apply sunscreen to baby’s exposed skin regardless of the season. Even in the cold of winter, UV exposure can still harm any skin that clothing doesn’t cover.

Before using sunscreen outside, it’s best to test a small amount of sunscreen on baby's skin, to make sure baby’s skin doesn’t get irritated. Test it out 2 days before you plan to use it outside.

Always choose sunscreen designed for babies, and that offers broad-spectrum protection (meaning it protects against both types of UV rays – UVA and UVB). The sunscreen you choose should also have an SPF between 30 and 50. For more on selecting the best sunscreen for babies, read our previous baby sunscreen guide.

How To Apply Sunscreen To Babies Under 6 Months Of Age

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, you should only apply very small amounts of sunscreen to baby if they’re under 6 months old. This is because babies under 6 months of age have skin that’s very sensitive to the ingredients in sunscreen.

Since these youngest babies also have skin that’s the most sensitive to UV rays, you’ll need to shield most of their skin using other sun protection methods.

Always keep baby out of direct sunlight. Find them a spot in the shade, such as under a tree, umbrella, or tent, whenever you take them outside.

And remember that, at this age, the clothing and sun accessories baby wears are key. Protective clothing will do most of the work in shielding baby’s skin.

Here’s how to protect a young baby (under 6 months) from the sun, with a very small amount of sunscreen.

  1. Dress baby in a lightweight, long-sleeved top and lightweight long pants. This will cover most of baby’s body so you won’t need to apply much sunscreen. (You can choose UV protective clothing if you wish, but any lightweight cotton clothing will work.)
  2. 15-30 minutes before going outside, apply a very small amount of sunscreen to the backs of baby’s hands and tops of baby’s feet. Applying the sunscreen this early will give it time to settle in. Sunscreen isn’t at its full effectiveness until 15-30 minutes after applying.
  3. Then, apply a very small amount of sunscreen to baby’s face. It may be easiest to use a stick sunscreen for the face, as this is usually the part of the process that babies like the least. Pay special attention to baby’s nose and ears. And be extra careful that you don’t get sunscreen in baby’s eyes, especially if baby is squirmy.
  4. Right before going outside, protect baby’s head using a hat with a wide brim.
  5. Protect their eyes with sunglasses that have a UV protection rating.
  6. Every two hours, reapply small amounts of sunscreen to the face, tops of feet, and backs of hands. You should also reapply sunscreen if baby’s hands or feet get wet.

How To Apply Sunscreen: Babies 6-12 Months Of Age

After baby turns 6 months old, their skin becomes less sensitive to sunscreen ingredients. You can now apply sunscreen to any uncovered area of baby’s body, and you can – and should – apply it in liberal amounts.

What does “liberal amounts” mean? It’s recommended to use about half a shot glass worth of sunscreen, every time you apply sunscreen to babies in this age group.

In addition to the sunscreen, protective clothing and shade are still great tools to protect your little one from UV rays. In fact, if you can cover part of baby’s body with protective clothing, that’s just as good as using sunscreen.

You can have baby out in direct sunlight for small amounts of time, but you should still limit their direct exposure. Don’t expose baby to direct sunlight when the UV rays are most intense (between 10 AM and 4 PM).

Here’s how to apply sunscreen to a baby 6 months old or older:

  1. Plan to begin applying sunscreen 15-30 minutes before you take baby outside. Sunscreen needs time to settle in before it reaches its full effectiveness.
  2. Spread out a towel on the floor, and lay baby down on top of the towel. Baby’s going to get slippery during this process, so this is for their safety.
  3. You’ll start applying sunscreen in quadrants. This way, you’ll know that you haven’t missed anywhere on baby. Mentally divide baby’s body (from the neck down) into four quadrants: right arm side, right leg side, left arm side, and left leg side.
  4. Start at the quadrant that includes baby’s right arm and the right side of baby’s chest. Be sure to coat all sides of the arm! Apply enough sunscreen to this quadrant that you can see a thin white coating throughout the quadrant. Then, rub it in. Don’t miss the spaces in between the fingers!
  5. Then, work clockwise – move to the quadrant that includes baby’s right leg and right stomach area. Be sure to coat all sides of the leg! Apply sunscreen to all areas of this quadrant. Check for the thin white coating, and rub it in. Don’t miss in between the toes, the back of the knee, or the bottom of the foot!
  6. Move to the quadrant that includes baby’s left leg and left stomach area, and repeat the same process you just used for the right leg.
  7. Next, move to the quadrant that includes baby’s left arm and the left side of baby’s chest. Follow the same process you used for the right arm.
  8. Turn baby over and apply sunscreen to all areas of baby’s back that you couldn’t reach. It’s also a good idea to apply sunscreen to the top of baby’s bottom, in case their diaper or clothing sags and leaves that area partially exposed.
  9. Finish by applying sunscreen to baby’s face. This is usually the least enjoyable part for babies, so that’s why it’s best to save the face for last. It may be easiest to use a stick sunscreen for the face. If you use the stick, apply sunscreen in stripes across the whole face, then rub it in.
  10. Pay special attention to baby’s neck, nose, and ears. Don’t miss the hairline and scalp if baby has little to no hair, and if you aren’t going to dress them in a hat.
  11. Be very careful around the eyes. If sunscreen does get in baby's eyes, gently wipe baby's hands and eyes with a damp, clean cloth.
  12. If baby is especially squirmy, try distracting them with a toy as you apply the sunscreen. Or, wait until they've settled down before you continue.
  13. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after baby sweats a lot. And if baby goes swimming or otherwise gets wet, reapply sunscreen immediately after you dry them off.

What to do after baby is done with their outdoor adventure? Give them an age-appropriate bath right away. This will let their skin breathe.

Looking for more info on baby sunscreen? Don’t miss our guide to choosing the best sunscreen for baby.

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