The Best Sun-Protective Clothing for Kids and Babies, According to Dermatologists

May 17, 2021

 

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

Coolibar UPF 50+ Baby Beach One-Piece Swimsuit

$39

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.

 

Coolibar UPF 50+ Baby Finn Hooded One-Piece Swimsuit

$42

Also sized for babies and toddlers, this one-piece offers even more protection, thanks to its handy hood for covering tiny scalps.

 

Coolibar UPF 50+ Baby Wave One-Piece Swimsuit

$26

 

Coolibar UPF 50+ Baby Wave Swim Tights

$19

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.

 

Coolibar UPF 50+ Baby Boys’ Island Swim Trunks

$34

For those who prefer shorts, this pair is sized similarly to the stuff above (that is, for babies and toddlers). The print shown has the most sizes, but there are other, just-as-fun patterns available in limited quantities.

 

Coolibar UPF 50+ Toddler Coco Plum Everyday Long Sleeve T-Shirt

$26

Dr. Samer Jaber of New York City–based Washington Square Dermatology also recommends Coolibar and, as a rule, suggests looking for sun-protective clothing that is both “comfortable and stylish,” like this long-sleeved shirt for toddlers in some timeless stripes. While it can technically be worn for swimming, it feels more like a regular shirt, making it a versatile option for kids who spend a lot of time outdoors doing any number of things.

 

Coolibar UPF 50+ Kid’s Sandshark Short Sleeve Surf Shirt

$29

For older kids, this short-sleeved “surf shirt” made for swimming comes in a bunch of different colors and patterns, so there is surely an option that’ll please even the most persnickety.

 

Coolibar UPF 50+ Boys’ Island Swim Trunks

$39
This smart-looking pair of swim trunks is also sized for older kids (ages 4 to 16).

 

Coolibar UPF 50+ Kid’s Barracuda Neck-to-Knee Surf Suit

$42

For the older kid (or parent of one) looking for a lot of coverage from one garment, this neck-to-knee surf suit would be great option. It comes in three other patterns, too.

 

Best less-expensive sun-protective clothing for kids and babies

UV SKINZ UPF 50+ Girls 3-Piece Swim Set

$30

 

UV SKINZ UPF 50+ Boys 3-Piece Swim Set

$50

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 for girls and boys offer the most bang for your buck (and look adorable to boot). 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.

 

Most stylish sun-protective clothing for kids and babies

Mott50 Mini Taylor Baby Long Sleeve Sunsuit, Honey Plum

$44

Both Nussbaum and Dr. Keira Barr recommend Mott50 for stylish kids. “They have lightweight, fashionable options for kids that provide a UPF 50 rating, so you’re not choosing between sun safety and style,” Nussbaum explains. Sized for babies up to 24 months old, this suit in a jaunty plum print has thumb holes, so its sleeves can cover and protect a child’s hands.

 

SwimZip Girl 2 Piece Short Sleeve Rash Guard Swimsuit UPF 50+

$35

Swimzip, which Charles and Barr both like, is another brand that makes UPF 50 sun-protective clothing that also happens to be 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. This set sized for infants to 6-year-olds includes a zip-front short-sleeve rash guard and a frilly bottom.

 

SwimZip UPF 50+ Girls Long Sleeve Sunsuit

$40

This one-piece sunsuit, by SwimZip, is a full-piece swimsuit made from what the brand calls quick-drying material. Sized for babies and toddlers, we think the rose print is quite lovely. But it comes in lots of others if you disagree.
SwimZip Boys UPF 50+ Short Sleeve Rash Guard Swim Trunk Set $30
This rash guard and swim trunk set has a coordinating color palette that feels very beachy (especially because of the jellyfish print on the shorts). With options that can fit newborns through 10-year-olds, its sizing is also inclusive.

Mott50 Mini Mila, L’Orangerie

$56

For older girls (ages 2 to 10), here’s a long-sleeved one-piece from Mott50 in an eye-catching print that’s inspired by the gardens and fruit stands of Marrakesh.

 

Mott50 Mini Blake Kids Long Sleeve Rash Guard, Tropical Oasis

$36

This Mott50 rash guard with a snazzy tropical print provides full torso and arm coverage for kids ages 2 to 10.

 

Mott50 Mini Major Boys Boardshort, Brushed Flora

$48

These board shorts are sized to fit even more kids — from ages 2 to 12. While they won’t cover full legs, the shorts, like all the other Mott50 clothes we’ve included, are UPF 50.

 

Sun-protective accessories for kids and babies

Coolibar UPF 50+ Baby Splashy Bucket Hat

$24

According to the experts, both babies and older kids should consider wearing something in addition to sunscreen to protect their heads and faces. “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. Talakoub is a fan of Coolibar’s sun-protective hats, like this one that is UPF 50, sized to fit noggins of kids between 1 and 3 years old, and comes in lots of colors beyond pink.

 

Roshambo Baby Shades

$23

“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 important, 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.

Babiators Baby Original Navigator Sunglasses

$17

Barr also likes Babiators, which will fit newborns and kids up to 5 years old.

 

Winkniks Coco, Lavendar

$45

According to Barr, Winkniks are the “best in fashion and function.” These rather glam, hexagonal frames have scratch- and impact-resistant lensesand feature spring-hinged temples that flex to fit a child’s head comfortably.

 

Nakoma Products Sunguard Sun Protection Clothing Wash, Pack of 3

$17
Talakoub, Chimento, and Barr all told us about SunGuard, which Barr calls “an inexpensive way to impart sun protection into your child’s wardrobe.” Simply 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).

 

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