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Sunscreen for Babies: When Can You Use Sunscreen and What Kind Is Safest?

Babies shouldn’t wear sunscreen before 6 months old, so opt for shade and cooler parts of the day for outdoor fun time

Parents applying sunscreen to their toddler at the beach

You know that sunscreen is essential for keeping safe from sunburn and reducing your risk of skin cancer. (And if you don’t already, consider this your friendly reminder: Use sunscreen every day.)


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But what about your little ones? When can you put sunscreen on your baby? And what’s the safest sunscreen for them?

Sun protection is important for everyone. But keeping infants protected is a different ballgame.

We talked with pediatrician Brigitta Moresea, MD, about sunscreen for babies so you can keep your baby safe during your fun in the sun.

When can you put sunscreen on your baby?

Recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest that babies shouldn’t wear sunscreen until they’re 6 months old or older.


First, consider how some sunscreens actually work.

“In order for chemical sunscreens to protect you, they have to be absorbed into your skin. But the evidence we have says that babies can’t metabolize the ingredients well,” Dr. Moresea shares.

On the other hand, mineral sunscreens don’t need to be absorbed by your skin. They work more like a protective shield that keeps the sun from damaging your skin. But covering a baby with mineral sunscreen can have downsides, too.

“When babies are covered in sunscreen, it can keep them from sweating. They can’t evaporate the heat off,” Dr. Moresea explains. “Babies already can have more difficulty regulating their body temperature. And when you put on sunscreen, it can trap the heat in.”

That said, let’s be realistic for a moment. No, sunscreening your baby under 6 months isn’t ideal. But worse would be dealing with the effects of too much sun exposure on their sweet little baby skin.


So, if you find yourself in a pinch and sunscreen is the only way you can keep your baby safe from the sun, sunscreen is a better option than sunburn, Dr. Moresea advises.

What to look for in baby sunscreen

When shopping for baby sunscreen, know what to look for.

Dr. Moresea suggests these tips for choosing the safest sunscreen for your baby. (Bonus, the same rules apply to you and your older kids, too. So, go ahead and share!)

Mineral sunscreens

Remember, mineral sunscreens are the kind that don’t get absorbed by your body. Instead, they create a barrier that keeps the sun from penetrating your skin. They tend to be considered more effective than chemical sunscreens. And because they don’t get absorbed by your body, they may be safer.

You’ll know you’re choosing a mineral sunscreen if it contains the ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

“Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are both listed as Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA),” Dr. Moresea says. “They’ve been well tested and shown to work well and be safe.”

Some people don’t like mineral sunscreens because they have a reputation for leaving a film or white cast on the skin. If you haven’t tried one recently, you may be surprised. Some more modern formulas are designed to be more transparent than in the past.

Broad spectrum

Sunlight is made up of both UVA and UVB rays. Over time, UVA exposure causes damage like wrinkles and sunspots. UVB rays cause sunburns and are more commonly associated with skin cancer, including melanoma.

Sunscreens that are labeled as “broad spectrum” help protect you from both kinds of UV rays.

Don’t spray

Sure, spray-on sunscreen has its advantages. The convenience of not greasing up your hands is a definite selling point.

But rub-on sunscreen is going to be your better choice. And for oily skin, a gel sunscreen works best.

“Sunscreen sprays are the least recommended type because so much gets blown away. And it just doesn’t work as well,” Dr. Moresea notes.

Using a lotion or gel sunscreen gives you more control. That means you can be sure to keep it out of your baby’s eyes and be confident they’re well-covered.

SPF 30+

SPF stands for “sun-protection factor.” You can find sunscreens with a range of SPFs, from 15 or less up to 100.

Dr. Moresea suggests choosing a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher for babies, children and most adults. That blocks about 97% of UVA and UVB rays.


No sunscreen is going to truly stand up to a day in the pool. But sunscreens that are water resistant are more likely to keep up with you — up to a point, at least.

Remember that “water resistant” isn’t the same as being waterproof or sweat-proof. No sunscreen will stay effective for long after it's wet, despite what the label may say.

All sunscreens will still break down in the water over time. But a water-resistant sunscreen can keep you better protected than one that isn’t.

Apply and reapply

Even the best sunscreen isn’t effective if it’s being used ineffectively. So, you’ll need to be thoughtful and timely about applying (and reapplying) sunscreen.

Dr. Moresea recommends following these tips to make sure you’re using your sunscreen properly:

  • Use sunscreen every day.
  • Apply about 30 minutes before going outside.
  • Reapply every two hours if you’re staying dry.
  • Reapply every 40 minutes if you’re getting wet.


Other ways to protect baby from the sun

Your best bet is to keep babies under 6 months old out of direct sunlight. But that doesn’t mean baby has to spend all summer in the AC. (You both need fresh air, after all.)

In the best-case scenario, you’d be able to take them out even on hot days by keeping them in the shade or covered up.


Consider sun-protection measures like:

  • Umbrellas.
  • Stroller shades.
  • Hats.
  • Protective clothing, like long-sleeved (and lightweight!) swim shirts.

Try, too, to avoid the hottest parts of the day. Instead, take baby to the park in the morning. Or enjoy an after-dinner walk. Save the middle part of the day for indoor activities.

Even after your baby turns 6 months and you start using sunscreen on them, you still want to take some precautions. Just because they’re wearing sunscreen doesn’t mean you have to plop them down in the middle of the beach unsheltered.

“Even with sunscreen, you can get sunburned. And no one would wish that on a baby,” Dr. Moresea stresses. “Skin damage is a cumulative effect. The earlier you start protecting for it, even with babies, the better.”

The sunny side

Sunscreen is an important tool for protecting your skin from the sun. But babies under 6 months old are better off limiting their exposure in other ways. And when the time comes to use sunscreen, be vigilant about it. Using sunscreen should be a lifetime habit for them anyway. Start early!


Learn more about our editorial process.

Health Library
Well-Baby Care Visits & Developmental Milestones (Age 0-12m)

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