Find out which sunscreens are best for babies and kids, and learn how to apply them without fuss.

By Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D.
Updated: May 07, 2019
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How to Select Sunscreen

When it comes to sun protection, the options are endless. Does your kid need SPF 30 or 50? What's the difference between UVA and UVB? Quit worrying! Just follow these guidelines from Parents advisor Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D., a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital.

Look for the term "broad spectrum” on the label. That means the sunscreen will protect against both UVA (skin-damaging) and UVB (burning) rays.

Pick one with SPF 30. Sunscreens that have a higher SPF don't significantly increase protection.

Go for a mineral sunscreen. The active ingredient should be zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are physical barriers, and they're less likely to be absorbed into skin than ingredients in chemical sunscreens.

Try to avoid sunscreen for babies under 6 months old. Instead, keep them out of the sun and use a hat, sunglasses, and clothing as cover.

Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure. If your child is playing or swimming, reapply every one to two hours.

Possibly avoid spray sunscreens. It's hard to know how thickly you're applying them, and more research is still needed on the possible risks from inhalation.

Sunscreen Application Tips

Seasoned parents supply clever strategies to get your squirmer to cooperate.

Give her a choice. “Just as you let your little one pick which snack she wants from two healthy options, give her the choice of two types of sunscreens from brands you trust.”— Hillary Fogelson, four-time melanoma survivor and author of Pale Girl Speaks

Find the right pace. “If your child has autism or sensory sensitivities, you might only get one arm covered before he needs a break for a book, a show, or a favorite activity. Unscented varieties tend to work best.”— Lisa Goring, spokesperson for Autism Speaks; Manhasset, NY

Get aboard the sunscreen train. “Everyone lines up—siblings, cousins, friends, parents—and receives a big squirt to rub on the back and shoulders of the person in front of him. An adult checks for missed spots.”—Amanda Mushro; Gaithersburg, MD

Encourage silly faces. “I ask my daughter to make a puffer-fish face. It usually entertains her long enough for me to apply and smooth out the sunscreen.”—Lyla Gleason; New York, NY

Take an artsy approach. “Buy a cheap paint brush from the hardware store, and let kids ‘paint’ on the sunscreen themselves.”—Stacie Vaughan; Pembroke, Ont., Canada

Sync it with snack time. Does your child ask you for a snack every couple of hours? You’re in luck! “Pick natural breaks like those for snacks and lunch to reapply sunscreen. By doing this, you’re not taking your little one away from her fun. This strategy also gives the sunscreen time to soak in before our kid heads out of the shade.

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