Simple Parenting

How to Actually Get Sunscreen on Toddlers, and Other Summer Sun Tips

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If summer has you ramping up your outside time with your little one, we’ve got you covered with infant and toddler sun safety tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

And we’ve collected a few bonus pointers for ACTUALLY getting sunscreen safely applied to even the squirmiest of babies.


Got a little one six months or younger? The general rule of thumb from pediatricians is that it’s best to avoid the sun, rather than slathering on the sunscreen. Here’s what you need to know.

1) When you can, avoid exposure. That means:

  • Dress babies in lightweight clothes, like long pants and long-sleeved shirts, that still keep them cool
  • Look for brimmed hats that cover your child’s neck
  • If you’re using a stroller or carseat, look for canopies with good coverage
  • Consider tossing a lightweight blanket in your diaper bag so you can always create shade on the go

2) If you can’t avoid the sun, a minimal amount of sunscreen is ok. That means:

  • Use an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15
  • Apply in small amounts to areas like your baby’s face or the back of her hands

Older Babies and Toddlers

Older Babies and Toddlers

For older babies and toddlers, minimizing exposure to the sun is still the best defense. But try telling that your toddler who’s insisting: “Go outside!” For them, the AAP recommends:

1) Minimize exposure as much as you can, which means:

  • Cover up with lightweight clothes (look for a tight weave)
  • Stay in the shade – head to shadier parks or outdoor spaces when possible
  • When you can, try to avoid the sun at the height of the day; if you have the flexibility, try running your little ones earlier in the morning (and then enjoy afternoon nap times when the sun is strongest)
  • Hats on! Look for wide brims

2) Put sunscreen on – even on cloudy days (clouds don’t block UV rays – they just filter them)

  • Look for SPF of 15 or greater, and “full spectrum” coverage
  • Use enough (the recommendation is 1 ounce per child per application); if that ends up leaving you with way more than you can actually rub in, a good rule of thumb is to generally use more than you think you need
  • Reapply every two hours – or more frequently if your child is a sweaty little beast or has been swimming

Read more from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Okay – But How Do I Actually Get Sunscreen on a Toddler?

If you ever get tempted to skip the sunscreen because it’s just too much of a pain, try these suggestions instead for older babies and toddlers:

  • Call it body paint – make fun shapes on your child’s arms, legs, and face before the designs “magically” disappear when you rub in the lotion
  • Make it a fun ritual – or even create a silly song – so that everyone knows putting on sunscreen is part of leaving the house
  • Fair trade – reward your child by allowing them to rub a bit of sunscreen onto your body part of choice (although you will want to wash their fingers after so they don’t ingest)
  • Stickers. Why not?
  • And If all else fails… apply after you’ve strapped your little one into a carseat or stroller

Happy summer!

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Ailen is the Managing Editor at ParentsTogether. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband and two spirited boys.