The FDA recommends that you avoid using sunscreen on babies under 6 months of age, and suggests that instead you keep your little ones out of the sun. This sounds like a valid recommendation if you have a fall/winter baby, but I know I certainly was not prepared to hibernate all summer long. Instead, we came up with a plan that helped us protect our very fair-skinned baby from the sun while still being able to enjoy outdoor activities. When Sprout was a baby, we also tried to limit Sprouts outside time when the sun is the strongest (10am-2pm). Now that she is a toddler, we still use much of the same approach…
Our approach to sun protection, was much like our approach to bug protection, using clothing or other cover-ups to minimize the amount of skin exposed and only using sunscreen on the small amount of exposed skin. The best clothing and cover-ups for you likely depend on the activity you are engaged in, but below are some great products to help protect LO from the sun.
Swimming: Swimming poses extra challenges to sun protection, even for older kids as many sunscreens wash off in the water, requiring you to reapply sunscreen often. The more skin you keep covered, the less sunscreen you need (though still do reapply sunscreen to exposed skin).
- Long sleeved full body swimsuit with UV protection: Sprout has one by Sun Protection Zone that we have been happy with.
- Wide brim sun hat with UV protect
- UV protective shelter for when not in the water (great for beaches and can be used for sleep when camping)
- Sunscreen for exposed skin
Hiking or Playing outdoors
- Wide brim sun hat
- Breathable long-sleeve shirt with UV protection
- I often see rash guards recommended for sun protection, but rashguards are made similar to swimsuits and really are not breathable. They do provide sun protection, but your baby or toddler may get hot in these shirts fairly quickly. Cotton is also not a great option. Not only do they not provide sun protection, but they take a long time to dry and do not wick away moisture. The problem with this is if you are wearing your baby and sweating, your LO will end up in wet clothing. This can be both uncomfortable and may lead to your baby being unexpectedly cold. There are many athletic gear companies that make wicking, breathable shirts for school-aged kids, but I found it much harder to find similar clothing options for babies and toddlers. We love this one by Patagonia. It is essentially Sprout’s hiking uniform. They are a bit pricey, so size up and extend the life of the shirt.
- Long Pants with UV protection:
- Jeans or other dark and thickly woven pants are very good at blocking UV rays, so these can be a great option in cooler temperatures, but may be warm in the summer months. We used REI’s midweight long underwear, which are breathable and have UV protection, but are no longer available. You could try the Patagonia midweight set. Now we typically use a pair of dark green khakis that are not marketed as providing UV protection, but likely does because they are made of a tightly woven fabric and are a darker color. If you go this route, stick with the boys section as they typically have looser fitting (more comfy and allows air to flow) clothes with thicker materials.
- TIP: Size up if you will mainly be babywearing. Pants tend to bunch up a bit and leave the lower leg exposed. Sizing up helps avoid this problem because the pants are longer.
- Awning/hood for baby carrier: Most soft structured carriers (SSC) come with a hood that can keep a babies head covered, though most older babies will not be happy with the hood on when they are awake. Metal-framed baby carriers (i.e. Kelty, Deuter, and Osprey) either come with an awning/suncover or sell compatible covers separately.
- UV protection blankets: Are also an option for keeping your baby or toddler covered in a stroller, SSC, or infant car seat.
A note on sunscreen
It is not an accident that sunscreen is listed last on both lists. We do use sunscreen, but we only use it where absolutely necessary (mostly Sprout’s face & neck). Having her protected by clothing helps us not have to worry so much about the sunscreen wearing off. We still have to reapply often (every 2 hours or when you get out of water, as is recommended), but these reapplication are limited to just Sprout’s face, which is also shaded by her hat. We like Badger’s Sport Sunscreen, which is more water-resistant than the baby version, biodegradable and safe for coral reefs (good if you are in the ocean; per companies marketing). It is very concentrated, so a little goes a long way. It is a zinc based sunscreen, so it doesn’t have the strong smell that many other sunscreens have, though it does leave everyone looking slightly like a ghost. This effect seems to wear off after a little while though. The active ingredient, zinc, is a natural mineral and is the main ingredient in butt creams for diaper rash, which means that it has been used on sensitive baby skin for ages. Here is a list of chemicals used in sunscreens and a discussion of how much we know about their safety. I absolutely believe that using sunscreen is better than not using sunscreen, but we also have choices as to which sunscreen we use.