Sunscreen for babies and kids

By Rebeca Thomas, RN, BSN, CPHQ Mar 10, 2022 • 7 min

What kind of sun protection is the right choice for babies and kids?

Planning a day at the beach or an afternoon in the yard? Along with snacks, water and sand toys, it's important to pack and apply sunscreen to protect children's skin from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays anytime they head outside, even if only for a short period of time. Sunscreen is for everyone in the family, including kids and babies 6 months of age and older.

According to the American Cancer Society, although people with light skin are more likely to have their skin damaged by UV rays, darker-skinned people of any ethnicity can also be affected.

Here's what to consider when choosing the right sunscreen for your children.

Sun protection options for babies under 6 months old

If you're going outside with a young infant, under 6 months old, most experts recommend not using sunscreen and keeping your baby out of the sun instead. When keeping your infant out of the sun isn’t an option, protect your little ones from the sun using these tips:

  • Dress infants in lightweight, loose fitting and long-sleeved shirts and pants that can protect them from sun. Choose a fabric that's a tighter weave rather than one that you can see through. You can look for clothing with a UV protection factor (UPF) specifically designed to offer sun protection. The higher the UPF rating, the more UV rays that are blocked. For instance, fabric with UPF 50 blocks about 98% of the sun's rays.
  • Use a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect their head, face and eyes at all times.
  • Stay in the shade as much as possible, using an umbrella, sunshade or even a stroller canopy to provide cover.
  • Other precautions to keep your baby safe include making sure your infant drinks plenty of fluids and doesn't become overheated. Take your baby inside right away if they become extra fussy, cry inconsolably or have redness on any exposed skin.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes use of sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face, if protective clothing and shade are not available. Sunscreen containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide are less likely to irritate a baby’s sensitive skin.

You should consult with your pediatrician for the best options to protect your baby’s skin from the sun..

Sun protection for children 6 months and older

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, it is important for children six months of age and older to use sunscreen to shield them from the sun whenever they go outdoors. About 15-30 minutes before heading outside, apply sunscreen to cover all exposed areas on your child's skin, including hard-to-reach parts such as behind and the top of the ears, back of the knees, the neck, and scalp. Dermatologists recommend selecting sunscreens that provide these benefits:

  • Broad-spectrum: Protects against both types of harmful rays: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB).
  • Water-resistant: There's no such thing as a waterproof sunscreen but water-resistant sunscreen does work for a brief time on wet skin.
  • Sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or higher: SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks about 98%.

If your child has sensitive skin, look for a sunscreen that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These ingredients work as a physical barrier on top of skin and may be less likely to irritate sensitive skin.

Sunscreen tips for caregivers of young children

Start with a good sunscreen routine on kids while they're young to help them understand the importance of smart sun care. Here are some ideas:

  • Try using a sunscreen that comes in other forms than just lotion. You can explore using appropriate SPF-rated products in sprays or sticks, gels, wipes and lip balms, as long as they're consistently applied according to the manufacturer's directions.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, and after water play, sweating or drying off with a towel.
  • Use UPF-rated clothing and hats that block out harmful rays. Consider products like long-sleeved rash guard shirts designed for water play and tightly woven, wide-brimmed hats.
  • Try UV-blocking wrapping sunglasses to protect your child's delicate eye area. Make sure the sunglasses are the right size and don't slide down their face. Look for ones that are rated to block 100% of UV rays.

Remember that just because it may not seem sunny, children still need to use sunscreen when they head outdoors. Cloudy or overcast skies still allow up to 80% of the sun's radiation to reach their skin. Make sun protection and sunscreen a part of your day, every day.

As always, check your sunscreen's expiration date and follow the label's directions closely.

Updated March 2022.

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