Baby Sunscreen Guide: Sun Protection Safety Tips

How to Apply Sunscreen to Your Baby
Wondering when you can smother your sweet baby in sunblock, and what ingredients are best for his sensitive skin? We’ve answered these common questions – and more – in our baby sunscreen safety guide.
Katrina Elena / Shutterstock
Katrina Elena / Shutterstock

The Importance of Baby Sun Protection

Nobody enjoys the painful experience of a sunburn, but prolonged sun exposure is especially harmful to young babies. “Babies have sensitive skin. They also don’t regulate their body temperature well,” says Debra M. Langlois, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan. Because of this, sunburnt babies can develop dehydration, heat stroke, and other scary side effects.

Getting sunburnt also increases your risk of skin cancer. According to Adena Rosenblatt, M.D., Ph.D, a pediatric dermatologist at The University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital, a majority of sun damage occurs within the first 18 years of life. “By the time people reach adulthood, most of the damage is already done,” she says.

Thankfully, sunburns and skin cancer have one major kryptonite: sunscreen. Read on for the ultimate baby sunscreen guide, including safety facts and application tips.

CHAjAMP / Shutterstock
CHAjAMP / Shutterstock

When Can I Apply Sunscreen to My Baby?

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that sunscreen be applied on children older than 6 months. That’s because delicate newborn skin can react to the chemicals in sunscreen, and some babies may develop a skin reaction like contact dermatitis. Instead, keep your baby out of direct and indirect sunlight as much as possible – especially between 10 a.m and 2 p.m. Stay indoors or place Baby in shaded areas like under a thick canopy or stroller.

Shutterstock
Shutterstock

Protecting Newborn Skin

If you must venue outside with a baby less than 6 months old, Dr. Langlois says to cover her with clothing liked wide-brimmed hats, lightweight cotton pants, and non-sheer long-sleeved shirts. You can apply a small amount of sunscreen to the remaining visible areas, as long as you test it out on a small patch of skin first. “If babies are in the sun, it's better to use sunscreen in the areas that are exposed,” Dr. Rosenblatt explains.

Olag Mikhaylov/Shutterstock
Olag Mikhaylov/Shutterstock

Physical v.s Chemical Sunscreen

There are two types of sunscreens: physical and chemical. “Physical sunscreens are mineral-based, and they reflect the UV light off the skin,” says Dr. Rosenblatt. “Chemical sunscreens absorb the UV so it doesn't get into the body.” She recommends choosing a physical sunscreen for babies, since the ingredients aren’t as harsh on the skin. Plus, Dr. Langlois says chemical sunscreens may contain oxybenzone, which could be a hormone disruptor. “This could have hormonal effects on a child, and in the long term it may cause things like early puberty” she says.

Thayer Allyson Gowdy
Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Choosing a Baby Sunscreen

When choosing a sunscreen, look for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. These non-toxic, mineral-based formulas physically block rays off of Baby’s skin. “You’ll also want broad spectrum to protect against UVA and UVB rays,” says Dr. Langlois. Both she and Dr. Rosenblatt recommend an SPF of 30 or higher.

Ratchanee Sawasdijira / Shutterstock
Ratchanee Sawasdijira / Shutterstock

Which is Better: Creams or Sprays?

Walk down the sunscreen aisle at the drugstore and you’ll spot creams, sprays, and powders. Which type of sunscreen is best for your baby? Dr. Rosenblatt is partial to creams. “You want to have a nice, even coat of sunscreen on your skin. You don’t tend to have that with sprays and powders,” she says. Dr. Langlois also prefers cream or stick sunscreens, and she adds that sprays could inadvertently get in the child’s lungs during application

comzeal images / Shutterstock
comzeal images / Shutterstock

Baby Sunscreen Application Tips

Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure, and reapply every two hours after that. If your kid goes in the water, put on another coat immediately after he gets out. “You want to be generous with sunscreen application,” says Dr. Langlois. “For babies especially, you want to be careful around the eyes, because if baby rubs his eyes it could be quite irritating.” She also says to be careful of applying sunscreens to your little one’s hands if he often puts them in his mouth. And don’t forget areas like the top of the head, nose, ears, and lips (or use an SPF lip balm)!

Following a few simple rules can help you shield your baby's skin from the sun.

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