Can I Put SPF On My Baby? Yes and no and it depends.

By Danielle Halibey | Photo by iStock

It’s getting closer and closer to Memorial Day Weekend and the unofficial (yet, totally official) start of the summer season. So, we’re making plans, buying the fashion that summer dressing dreams are made of, and forgetting about the biggest thing that should be on every summer ‘fit list: sunscreen. Sunscreen for us, but just as importantly, sunscreen for the littlest ones in our fam. If you have toddlers and big kids, you might already have an arsenal of mineral sunscreen at the ready, but if you’re momming for the first time—or just recently added a new babe to the crew—then a safe suncare refresher should probably happen. 

Thankfully, you don’t have to go to another whole pre-baby first aid or CPR class (not a fun time, we know), because we’ve got sunscreen 101 alllll covered for you and your sunny sidekick. We even spoke with a board-certified pediatric dermatologist, Dr. Sheilagh Maguiness, MD, FAAD, to answer the big question: Is it safe to put sunscreen on baby? 

Short answer? Yes, but you’ll want to wait until they’re at least six months old. The FDA and the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) have had this recommendation for years now, but let’s be honest, has anyone actually asked about the real-life risks that make sunscreen before 6 months problematic? Well, Dr. Maguiness tells us that “an infant’s skin is not yet mature, it is thinner than adult skin and more prone to developing irritant reactions/rashes to application of a sunscreen (or any topical product/cream).” So there’s that… the rashes-may-happen reason.  

But in the last few years, other clinical trials have alleged that “chemical sunscreens (ie: ones that continue to use chemical UV filters such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, homosalate, and others), the active ingredients in many sunscreen products, are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream after one application of the sunscreen,” clarifies Maguiness. Since infants younger than six months have a higher surface area to body weight ratio than adults do, plus a thinner skin barrier overall, they could [conceivably] absorb more of the adverse chemical compounds than older sibs, moms, and dads. 

There’s also the very real possibility that your infant, who likes to put everything in their mouth all day long, will put their fingers, wrists, feet in said mouths and proceed to lick/eat the toxic formulations. Yup, it’s gross, but we can’t exactly fault them for thinking a milky white, melting, dripping something isn’t breastmilk or formula. This just means that while baby is still getting used to life outside the womb, hold off on the sunscreen. There are just too many risks and unknowns there, and since baby can hang in the shade, wear cute sun-safe UPF 50+ clothing, and be a total vibe in sassy sunnies, opting for protective measures like these just makes the most sense. (Peep the 👇 for the picks and looks we love)

Full disclosure, I took my August-born babe out a lot in his first three months—and I let him chill in the backyard with me in this amaze portable playard, when it wasn’t too hot outside. The UPF 50+ sunshade (sold separately) gives great coverage, especially if baby falls asleep and you don’t want to shake up their nap time slumbers. 

Name a more adorable look than a wiggly, jellyfish babe in a sun-reflecting romper. This one is lead and phthalate-free, and it features UPF 50+ technology that’ll help keep their skin protected ALL over—even though they’re not wearing any sunscreen. And yes, definitely “complete their look” with a whole bunch of sea-worthy wears for a day on the shore. 

Baby’s eyes are SUPER sensitive, just like their skin, so don’t wait to style them in UVA and UVB ray-protecting sunglasses. We like Babiators because they’re cool, they’re safe, and they’re perfect for tiny trendsetters. You can get coordinating straps to tighten the fit, too.  

If your little will be hitting that magical six-month mark sometime soon, then definitely keep these babe-safe sunscreen tips on your radar:

Choose mineral over chemical.
There are two types of sunscreen in the world: mineral and chemical. The former works by creating a barrier between a person’s (and in this, a baby or toddler’s) skin and the harmful UV rays; it reflects sun away from the body. The latter works by penetrating the skin first and then absorbing UV rays—via a chemical reaction—before the skin can be damaged. The physical blocking versus chemical is safer and often more effective.

Prioritize zinc oxide as the chief active ingredient.
Dr. Maguiness likes zinc oxide as it offers a wide range of protection and will block both UVA and UVB rays very well. “Formulations with about 20% zinc oxide are typically what I recommend looking for with babies and toddlers.”

Filter anything under ‘SPF 50’ out. 

An SPF-50 rating means it would take you (a person: infant > 6 months, toddler, big kid, teen, etc.) 50 times longer to burn than you would if you weren’t wearing sunscreen. And it’s the protection factor Dr. Maguiness tells parents they should be looking for, without fail, when it concerns their babies and toddlers.

Switch out your sprays for sticks and creams.

By the nature of their “physical blocker” form, mineral sunscreens are usually sold as stick or cream applications. This is the coverage you want for your minis, because spraying “compounds near a baby’s face is where there is potential for inhalation,” says Maguiness. “To top it off, spray formulations are just difficult to apply evenly, which means you might not be achieving the SPF coverage you really need.”

To that end, when you’re dealing with a baby who wants nothing to do with sitting still, a mineral sunscreen stick could be your secret weapon. Dr. Maguiness loves ‘em, because she says “they are easy to simply paint onto exposed areas, remembering not to forget the ears, neck, and backs of hands!”  

And reach for your preggo-safe sunscreen, if it’s the only one you’ve got. 

We’ve been there 937 times before… getting through the gates at the zoo or finishing up a sweet picnic on the beach before hitting the water just to realize that s***, you forgot the sunscreen and your squishy babe is about to burn 😩. K, so before you melt down right in the middle of these should-be happy moments, if you happen to have a sunscreen you used while pregnant (especially if it’s one like our own 100% non-nano zinc oxide Sunny Mama Face + Body Duo SPF 50), whip that out. If it has no fragrance or phenoxyethanol, add a few bonus points too, beams Dr. Maguiness. 

About Sheilagh Maguiness, MD, FAAD

Dr. Sheilagh is a board-certified pediatric dermatologist. She’s also a mom and co-founder of skincare brand, Stryke Club, which is now available nationwide at Target, Walmart, and Amazon.