When Can My Baby Wear Sunscreen?

Applying sunscreen to baby

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It's warm and sunny out so you decide to go out for a stroller walk with your new baby. Since babies are supposed to avoid direct sunlight, you put on their tiny sunhat, pull your stroller's shade down as you walk, and stop in a shady area under some trees to take your baby out for some tummy time.

Spending a day outside without ever exposing your little one to the sun seems elusive, though. The stroller shade works well until you take a sharp right and then the sun is now shining across your baby's bare arms. When a chilly wind blows through your shady spot, your baby fusses and then calms once you bring them into the warm sunlight.

You start to wonder whether applying sunscreen onto your baby might best protect them from the sun's rays, but remember sunscreen isn't safe until a certain age. However, you can't remember exactly what that age is.

In general, babies under 6 months old should not use sunscreen. Instead, it's best to use other protective measures to avoid direct sun exposure. After babies turn 6 months old, sunscreen application should be a regular part of preparing to go outside in the sun. "Generally speaking, keep your baby out of the sun if they are under 6 months old because their skin is still very sensitive," says Christina Johns, MD, a pediatrician and the senior medical advisor at PM Pediatrics. Here's what you need to know about your baby and sunscreen use.

When Is It Safe for My Baby to Wear Sunscreen?

It is safe and important for babies to wear sunscreen when they are at least 6 months old. Before then, babies are at an increased risk for rashes and other side effects and sunscreen should be avoided.

The one exception for putting sunscreen on babies under 6 months is if you cannot get your baby out of the direct sun for a period of time during which you cannot use other protective measures such as a hat and loose, light clothing that covers the skin. In this case, it is more important to prevent sunburn, so you can apply a small amount of sunscreen to your baby's face.

Benefits of Sunscreen for Babies Over 6 Months

The primary benefit of using sunscreen is to prevent sunburn. Sunburns can be very painful and can lead to fever and feelings of sickness. "The sun's rays can cause thermal burn," explains Dr. Johns. "This burn is similar to the burn you might get on a stove."

Repeated sun exposure during childhood increases the risk of having tougher, wrinkled skin later in life, as well as the risk of being diagnosed with skin cancer. "The sun damage in those young years confers an increased risk of developing moles, and freckles, all of which increase the risk of developing skin cancer," notes Karan Lal, DO MS FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist and member of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology. Using sunscreen can prevent skin damage that increases such risks.

Darker skin makes sunburn less likely, but all children are at risk for sunburn when they are exposed to the direct sun. Even if your child never burns, sunscreen still offers many protective benefits. "We know that the damage of the sun's rays is cumulative, so the longer parents’ can avoid damage to their baby's skin from the sun's harmful rays, the better," notes Dr. Johns.

Safety Precautions

If your baby is over 6 months old, there are some safety precautions to bear in mind when applying sunscreen.

Avoid the Eyes

Apply sunscreen anywhere the sun can reach, with the exception of the skin right around your baby's eyes. "Parents should be very careful when applying sunscreen on the face, especially around the eyes, because it can potentially drip and cause pain or irritation," notes Dr. Johns. If you do accidentally get sunscreen in their eyes, gently rinse it out with water.

Reapply as Needed

Sunscreen protection doesn't necessarily last all day. It is best to reapply sunscreen every two hours or more often if the baby gets wet, such as from spending time in the water. Even sweating can remove sunscreen from the skin, so reapply more often in hot weather as well.

Use Gentle Ingredients

When babies reach the age of 6 months, they can generally handle sunscreen, but you still need to be careful about the ingredients. At this age, the benefits of sunscreen may outweigh the risks, but their skin is only slightly less sensitive. "Babies have very thin skin and absorb more topically than adults so...make sure it is a 100% physical blocker with zinc and titanium dioxide only," advises Dr. Lal.

Risks of Putting Sunscreen on Babies Too Soon

Babies under 6 months old need protection from the sun's rays, but they should not wear sunscreen unless a situation occurs where there is no other option for sun protection.

Babies' skin is highly sensitive and sunscreen is likely to give them uncomfortable rashes. Additionally, their skin may be less able to keep the chemicals in sunscreen from entering their bodies.

A Word From Verywell

Babies do need protection from the sun, but babies under 6 months should not wear sunscreen. Sunscreen is likely to cause a rash when applied to babies' sensitive skin. When taking your baby under 6 months out into the sun, protect them by putting a hat on them, dressing them in loose, light clothing that covers the skin, and keeping them out of the direct sunlight.

If you find yourself in a situation where you cannot get your baby out of the direct sun and alternative protective measures are not available, you may apply a small amount of sunscreen to their face to prevent sunburn. However, it is always preferable to avoid sunscreen for babies under 6 months.

After 6 months, it is important to apply sunscreen when taking your baby into the sun. Use sunscreen as well as continue to use other protective measures.

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4 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Should You Put Sunscreen on Babies? Not Usually. US Food and Drug Administration.

  2. Sun Safety: Information For Parents About Sunburn & Sunscreen. American Academy of Pediatrics.

  3. Sunburn Treatment and Prevention. American Academy of Pediatrics.

  4. Is Sunscreen Safe for Babies? Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.