Youngsters have thinner, more sensitive skin, making it essential for parents — and their little ones — to develop good sun-protection habits from the get-go. “Getting kids used to sun protection early is key,” says Dr. Heidi A. Waldorf, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Finding the right sunscreen to slather on is of course important, but the dermatologists we spoke with say finding quality sun-protective clothing is just as crucial — especially for new parents, because babies under six months cannot wear any sunscreen. Even when a child is old enough for sunscreen, experts still recommend using sun-protective clothing because it can reduce the need to reapply and because some kids just don’t like the feel of a pasty white film on their skin. “When sunscreen gets too cumbersome to apply and reapply, a good alternative is sun-protective clothing,” explains Dr. Ainah Tan. Dr. Stacy Chimento of Riverchase Dermatology adds that such clothing can be as, if not more, effective as sunscreen on certain areas of the body “because it is a physical blocker of the rays and, unlike sunscreen, you never have to reapply.” While the right clothes can provide excellent sun protection, Chimento reminds us that there are body parts like the face, hands, and neck that will probably still be exposed to UV rays. That’s why she recommends using sun-protective clothing in tandem with — not in place of — sunscreen for kids who are old enough to be covered in the latter. McLean Dermatology founder Dr. Lily Talakoub, who also founded the product-recommendation website Derm to Door, agrees that wearing sun-protective clothing on top of skin covered in sunscreen is the most effective approach.
Generally, clothes with “dark colors and a tight-weave fabric will protect the skin,” according to Dr. Jody Levine. But finding garments with a high ultraviolet-protection factor — or UPF rating — is key to getting the best coverage, according to Dr. Marnie Nussbaum. “The average white cotton T-shirt provides a 5 UPF rating, (meaning one-fifth of the sun’s rays will pass through that garment), while some sun-protective garments have a UPF rating of 50, which means one-50th of the UV radiation can penetrate the fabric,” she explains. Below, our 12 experts — who include Nussbaum, Levine, Talakoub, Chimento, Tan, and seven other dermatologists — recommend their favorite sun-blocking shirts, onesies, and swimsuits (all of which have a UPF rating of 50) for kids and babies, plus a few other accessories you can consider for added protection.
Best overall sun-protective clothing for kids and babies
Full-coverage clothing is a must for babies under 6 months since they can’t wear a drop of sunscreen. But Dr. Morgan Rabach explains why the appeal of sun-protective onesies extends beyond a child’s infancy: “I find it easier to put very little kids in a onesie than try to get them all greased up.” Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi says she “only applies sunscreen to my kids in areas that are not covered by sun-protective clothing,” telling us Coolibar is her favorite brand for such clothing. Eight of the 11 other dermatologists we talked to also recommended it. “I love Coolibar,” says Dr. Carlos A. Charles, the founder of NYC-based Derma di Colore. “It is one of the original brands for sun-protective clothing and their innovative fabric blocks 98 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet light.” With long sleeves and pants that cover a lot of otherwise exposed skin, this swimsuit sized for babies and toddlers provides pretty excellent coverage for a single garment.
Also sized for babies and toddlers, this one-piece offers even more protection, thanks to its handy hood for covering tiny scalps.
If you’re not sure whether your little one will enjoy being covered from head to toe, consider these separates that come in sizes for babies and toddlers. The legless swimsuit can be worn on its own — or under the tights, if you wind up deciding your tot needs more protection.