Air & Water
Babies and Sun Exposure: A Parent’s Watchlist

Babies and Sun Exposure: A Parent’s Watchlist

January 7, 2023

By Megan Boyle, Editorial Director

Is your family spending a lot of time outdoors this summer?

Babies join their parents and siblings for all kinds of outings, and the sun exposure adds up. The littlest members of your family are also the most vulnerable to sun damage.

Only a few blistering sunburns in childhood can double the chance a person will develop skin cancer in over a lifetime.

Protect your babies by looking out for these three things:

  1. Direct sun

Babies’ young skins have not yet developed melanin, the pigment that protects us from harmful UV rays. Keep them out of direct sun—particularly infants under six months. Stay in the shade, cover up with hats and clothing, and extend the hood on your stroller and car seat.

If you can’t keep her out of the sun, as a last resort you can apply a small amount of sunscreen to your baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. Zinc and titanium-based sunscreens are best, but talk to your doctor first.

  1. Harmful ingredients

When selecting a sunscreen for your child, check the label for retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A that has caused lesions in test animals, and oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and can disrupt the hormone system.

Another ingredient to avoid: methylisothiazolinone (MI). Manufacturers commonly add this preservative to baby wipes and other personal care products, including sunscreen. A potent allergen, MI is linked to painful allergic skin rashes. Although some manufacturers are beginning to phase out MI, it could still be hiding in your products, even those labeled hypoallergenic.

Visit the EWG Sun Safety Guide to find a good sunscreen for your family and steer clear of the 11 worst sunscreens for kids.

  1. Vitamin D

Sun exposure has health benefits, too. Vitamin D forms naturally in our bodies when we’re exposed to sunlight. People with limited sun exposure—particularly babies—may be deficient in this essential hormone, which strengthens bones and protects against several cancers. Consult your doctor about your child’s intake: Breastfed infants need supplements, and many others do as well. Learn more about whether your family is getting enough vitamin D.

Special reminder for parents: be sure to model good behavior when spending time in the sun. From infancy, babies learn by watching you. Cover up, seek shade, apply sunscreen and reapply after you get wet.

Find more tips in the Healthy Child Healthy World 2023 Sun Safety Guide for Children.