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 the 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 6 months old cannot wear any sunscreen.
Even when a child is old enough for sunscreen, experts still recommend using sun-protective clothing because there is less room for user error and because some kids just don’t like the feel of a pasty white film on their skin. Even on cloudy days where the sun doesn’t seem to be much of a threat, Brian Fine, a former chief firefighter who’s now a lifeguard instructor at Lifeguard Training NY, reminded us that “UV rays are able to penetrate through the clouds.” Dr. Stacy Chimento of Riverchase Dermatology adds that sun-protective clothing can be as effective, if not more than, sunscreen on certain areas of the body “because it is a physical blocker of the rays and, unlike sunscreen, you never have to reapply.”
All of the experts we spoke to — including dermatologists, lifeguards, and a professional swimmer — agreed that sunscreen and sun-protective clothing should be used in tandem whenever possible. Here are their favorite sun-protective rash guards, swimsuits, and hats for kids and babies.
What we’re looking for
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-fiftieth of the UV radiation can penetrate the fabric,” she explains. Most sun-protective clothing has a UPF rating of 50 or higher and blocks 98 percent of UV rays — but according to Fine, “a UPF of 30 to 49 offers very good protection.” Whenever possible, we’ve listed the UPF rating for each product below.
We’ve noted the available sizes for all of these sun-protective garments, which range from newborn to kids as old as 16.
If your child will be swimming in their sun-protective clothing, you’ll want a blend of polyester and spandex or elastane so it remains lightweight when wet and stretches as they move. Olivier Poirier-Leroy, writer and former competitive swimmer, notes that polyester is durable and fade-resistant but doesn’t stretch, while spandex and elastane stretch but can degrade when exposed to lots of sunshine and chlorine — so he recommends looking for a blend of around 85 percent polyester and 15 percent spandex or elastane to maximize the benefits of both. Natalie Livingston, co-founder of ALIVE Solutions, also points out that color is important from a safety point of view. “Select clothing that is bright and contrasting — think neon!” she says, explaining that her company has conducted visibility tests in different water environments and found that “many clothing colors simply disappear or are hard to see in the water.”
Best sun-protective clothing for babies
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 0-3m to 3T | Material: 84 percent polyester, 16 percent spandex
Full-coverage clothing is a must for babies under 6 months since they can’t wear 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 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 comes in six colors and prints and provides pretty excellent coverage for a single garment.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 3-6m to 3T | Material: 84 percent polyester, 16 percent spandex
This variation of the pick above offers even more protection, thanks to its handy hood for covering a child’s scalp and the back of their neck. (Plus there’s no risk of losing a hat). It’s sized for babies and toddlers, though it’s not available for the tiniest kids.
UPF rating: Not listed, but blocks 97% of UV rays | Sizing: 0-3m to 3 years | Material: 82 percent polyester, 18 percent spandex
This rash-guard swimsuit from parent-beloved brand Hanna Andersson has long sleeves and shorts that stop near the knee with an extended zipper to make it easy to put on and take off (an especially challenging task once a swimsuit is wet). Its sizing covers kids up to age 3, and it comes in more than ten stylish colors and prints.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 6m to 3 years | Material: 84 percent polyester, 16 percent spandex
This legless, long-sleeved swimsuit from dermatologist-approved Coolibar is available in sizes up to 3T. Motti Eliyahu, an EMT, firefighter, and lifeguard instructor, says that parents should always look for “easy-to-use zippers and snaps”; this style has a zipper at the neckline, and snaps between the legs to make diaper changes and bathroom breaks simple. You can also pull it off over a child’s head or have them step out of it when it’s time to switch into dry clothes.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 3m to 3 years | Material: 80 percent polyester, 20 percent spandex, 100 percent polyester lining
Babies and toddlers who are not yet potty trained will typically need to wear a swim diaper, especially in public pools. The waistband and each leg hole of the ones from Primary have elastic gatherings to help minimize any … biohazard spills. They can be worn on their own or over a disposable swim diaper. We recommend pairing one with a long-sleeve rash guard, which is available from Primary in a rainbow colors.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 0-3m to 6 years | Material: Rash guard: nylon and spandex blend; trunks: polyester
Swimzip, which Charles and Dr. Keira Barr both like, is another brand that makes UPF 50 sun-protective clothing that is also pretty fashionable. “Swimzip makes some very stylish and playful suits for your baby that are easy to put on and take off — a huge help for kids that can be difficult to wrangle,” Charles says. The girls’ set, sized for infants to 6-year-olds, includes a zip-front short-sleeved rash guard and a frilly bottom, while the boys’ set comes with swim trunks.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 3m to 3T | Material: 90 percent nylon, 10 percent spandex
For those who prefer shorts, this pair for babies and toddlers only has a faux drawstring, so there’s no tying necessary.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 6m to 2T | Material: 78 percent polyester, 22 percent Lycra
According to our experts, both babies and older kids should always have a hat at the ready. “Hats are huge because they offer a wide brim that’s protecting the back of your neck and your face,” says Dr. Vikash Oza, director of pediatric dermatology at NYU Langone Health. McLean Dermatology founder Dr. Lily Talakoub, who also founded the product-recommendation website Derm to Door is a fan of Coolibar’s sun-protective hats, like this one that is UPF 50 and sized to fit noggins of newborns and toddlers.
UPF rating: 100 percent UVA and UVB protection | Sizing: One size for infant to 2 years | Material: Plastic frame, polycarbonate lenses
For even more protection — assuming your child will tolerate them — add a pair of sunglasses, too. “Sunglasses are important for protecting the eyelids, which have very thin skin,” Oza says. These shades, recommended by Barr, are made from a flexible, rubberized plastic to withstand being tossed around by a small child. Most importantly, they block 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation. “They are also BPA-free, so if your little one happens to mistake the glasses for a chew toy, you don’t have to worry as much,” says Barr.
UPF rating: 100 percent UVA and UVB protection | Sizing: Infant to 6 years | Material: Plastic frame, glass lenses
Barr also likes Babiators, which will fit newborns and kids up to 5 years old.
Best sun-protective clothing for toddlers
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 4T to 12 years | Material: 84 percent polyester, 16 percent spandex
For total neck-to-ankle coverage, this Coolibar swimsuit is the larger version of our pick for babies.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 12m to 7 years | Material: Not listed
Three of our experts — Tan, Charles, and Waldorf — recommend the sun-protective clothing from UV Skinz, which also offers UPF 50 protection. With a pair of swim trunks, a swim shirt, and a matching hat, these three-piece sets offer a great bang for your buck (and look nice too). The sets come in a variety of sizes, from age 1 all the way up to 7 years old. Each also comes in many other patterns, so you can likely find a style that you — and if they have a say, your kid — look forward to putting on.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 2T to 3T | Material: 52 percent cotton, 43 percent viscose from bamboo, 5 percent elastane
If you’re not sure whether your little one will tolerate being covered from head to toe, consider separates like this long-sleeved shirt that can be thrown over any swimsuit when your child is out of the pool. It is also from Coolibar and comes recommended by Dr. Samer Jaber of New York City–based Washington Square Dermatology. Because it’s made from a cotton and viscose blend, it feels more like a regular shirt, so it’s a versatile option for kids who spend a lot of time outdoors doing any number of things.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 0-6m to 2T-4T | Material: Not listed
This lightweight and breezy sunhat made an appearance in the invaluable Baby Google Doc that Strategist contributor and Storq founder Courtney Klein passed along to all her pregnant friends. “For babies in sunny places, this is small enough for newborn heads and dries quickly if it gets wet at the beach,” Klein wrote — but the hat also comes in a 2T to 4T size for toddlers, as well as multiple colors.
Best sun-protective clothing for older kids
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: XS to XL | Material: Not listed
Poirier-Leroy says he’s been wearing the Speedo swim brand for years and even with miles of wear, “the polyester-heavy swimsuits don’t fade or stretch.” For kids who’d rather opt for a pair of swim trunks or a regular bathing suit, this looser-fitting swim hoodie is easy to slide on and off and to coordinate with a suit they might already have. Plus, the hood can provide extra protection for their head and scalp.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 2 years to 12 years | Material: 80 percent recycled nylon, 20 percent spandex, lining 88 percent recycled polyester, 12 percent spandex
In addition to offering more coverage, Poirier-Leroy says a long-sleeved rash guard suit like this one is “ideal for colder water as they hold in heat better” — notable if you’ll be hanging out at a lake or an outdoor pool on more overcast days. The top of the suit has a covered zipper, which Livingston seeks out for her own children to avoid irritation underneath their chins.
UPF rating: Up to 50+ | Sizing: 2 years to 12 years | Material: 82 percent recycled nylon, 18 percent spandex swim knit
For an option that you can pair with your swimsuit bottoms of choice, Hanna Andersson’s brightly colored rash guards look as good as they feel — many reviewers have commented that the material is supersoft to the touch. And once wet, separates like these make bathroom breaks much, much quicker and easier to manage, no matter your child’s age.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 4 years to 16 years | Material: 84 percent polyester, 16 percent spandex
Another good option for older kids, this short-sleeved “surf shirt” is made for swimming, and like the long-sleeved rash guard above, can be paired with any bottom you choose. It comes in a bunch of different colors and patterns, so there is surely an option that’ll please even the most persnickety.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: X-small to x-large | Material: 52 percent cotton, 43 percent viscose from bamboo, 5 percent elastane
This cotton-blend shirt is a bigger-kid-size version of the one recommended by Dr. Jaber above. Designed for everyday wear (the brand says it’s not recommended for swimming), it comes in a handful of colors and graphics with sizes available for kids up to 16 years old.
UPF rating: Up to 50+ | Sizing: 2 years to 12 years | Material: 82 percent recycled nylon, 18 percent spandex swim knit/84 percent recycled polyester, 16 percent spandex knit lining
While the experts we talked to strongly preferred rash guards or long-sleeve swimsuits, two-piece options can still work, especially for all-day beach lounging, according to Poirier-Leroy. “During long days at the beach or pool, you want your kid to stay cool and comfortable. Especially if they are in and out of the water all day and in a state of perpetual sogginess, which can lead to chafing and rubbing of the fabrics on the skin,” Poirier-Leroy says. One option is to use a suit like this as a “base,” and have a long-sleeve rash guard or other separate tops and bottoms on hand to layer on top or switch out as the day goes on.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 3 years to 14 years | Material: 82 percent polyester, 16 percent elastane
These nice-looking racerback one-pieces are another solid base layer that can be paired with a rash guard or swim shorts as the sun gets more intense in the middle of the day.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 4 years to 16 years | Material: 84 percent polyester, 16 percent spandex
This pair of swim trunks, sized for older kids, has a real drawstring nestled on the inside so it doesn’t accidentally come undone while they are belly-flopping into the pool.
UPF rating: 50+ | Sizing: 1 year to 12 years | Material: 100 percent nylon
The neck veil and wide, structured brim of this quick-drying play hat from Sunday Afternoons offers 360 degree protection, and the mesh side vents will help prevent kids from overheating. Plus, because each size is adjustable thanks to a cinch strap on the back of the hat, it will fit most kids for more than one summer. It comes in several bright colors and prints, and there’s a “breakaway” clasp on the chin strap for safety.
UPF rating: Not available, UVA and UVB Protection | Sizing: 5 years to 12 years | Material: Acetate frame
According to Barr, Winkniks sunglasses are the “best in fashion and function.” These rather glam hexagonal frames have scratch- and impact-resistant lenses and feature spring-hinged temples that flex to fit a child’s head comfortably.
UPF rating: 30 | Sizing: N/A | Material: N/A
Talakoub, Chimento, and Barr all told us about SunGuard, which Barr calls “an inexpensive way to impart sun protection into your child’s wardrobe.” You can add it to a load of laundry to wash UPF-30 sun protection into whatever clothes you want (the product promises its UPF protection will last for up to 20 washings). Though it should not be used to replace sunscreen, it can add another layer of sun protection, and you can never have too much.
• Dr. Keira Barr
• Dr. Carlos A. Charles, founder of NYC-based Derma di Colore
• Dr. Stacy Chimento of Riverchase Dermatology
• Motti Eliyahu, an EMT, firefighter, and lifeguard instructor
• Brian Fine, former chief firefighter and current lifeguard instructor at Lifeguard Training NY
• Dr. Samer Jaber, Washington Square Dermatology
• Dr. Jody Levine
• Natalie Livingston, co-founder of ALIVE Solutions
• Dr. Marnie Nussbaum
• Dr. Vikash Oza, director of pediatric dermatology at NYU Langone Health
• Olivier Poirier-Leroy, writer and former competitive swimmer
• Dr. Morgan Rabach
• Dr. Lily Talakoub, founder of McLean Dermatology and product-recommendation website Derm to Door
• Dr. Ainah Tan
• Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi
• Dr. Heidi A. Waldorf, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
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