Baby Sun Hats: Choosing the Best Sun Protection for Your Toddler or Baby

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There are not many items that are as essential for a trip to the beach with a baby as a sun hat. The best baby sun hats will provide all-day protection to the most vulnerable spots on your baby – his head, neck, and face.

Read on for the reasons why you need a sun hat for your baby or toddler, how to choose the best ones, and some recommendations from my actual experience over years of beach trips.

Why you need a beach hat for a baby

Sunburns in babies, especially those under 6 months, are dangerous. It’s not just the discomfort of a sunburn (which will lead to some miserable days, for sure!), but there is also evidence suggesting that sunburns early in childhood can increase skin cancer risk later in life. [source: skincancer.org]

You might be tempted to forego a beach hat and opt to either use sunscreen or just try to stay out of the sun.

But keep in mind that baby and toddler skin is delicate. It is thinner than the skin of older children, it has not yet developed all of its melanin, and for those reasons it can burn much more quickly than adults and older kids. We might not always think to apply sunscreen for the short walk around town, or on the way to the beach. But young children can absolutely burn in this short amount of time.

Having a sun hat for those quick trips will protect the most delicate of their skin.

It’s also important to understand that sunscreen can take up to 30 minutes to absorb into the skin, and therefore should be applied 30 minutes before going outside. [source: MD Anderson Cancer Center] This isn’t always realistic for quick trips.

Another factor is how we apply sunscreen to the head and face. If your little one has some hair, it can be challenging to thoroughly apply sunscreen. And while a full head of hair does help protect against sun burns, keep in mind that any area not covered by hair, including part lines, can burn easily. And they can be tough to get sunscreen into.

This hat, borrowed on a boat in Vietnam, was the epitome of perfect sun protection. Which makes sense, as it belonged to someone who spent his days on the ocean under the hot sun! But it fit about as well as that life jacket did…

We also tend not to lather sunscreen right around our babies’ eyes, for good reason. And with sunscreens that are more likely to drip down with sweat, a lot of parents avoid sunscreen anywhere above the eyes. That skin still needs to be protected.

close up of think baby sunscreen

As a side note, I’m going to throw in here my recommendation for ThinkBaby sunscreen. I love this stuff. We’ve been using it since my first was born, and while we’ve tried a few different brands over the years (as we run out of the ThinkBaby while traveling), we always come back to it.

It is zinc-based, which provides better coverage, is safe when it inevitably ends up in the mouth, and it just works. We have never burnt while using it, even several hours after application (because we are honestly just not the best about reapplying every 2 hours, and with other sunscreens, we’ve gotten burnt because of it).

Zinc-based and other physical barrier sunscreens are a little harder to put on, because you really do need to rub them in. But of all the baby-safe zinc sunscreens we have tried, ThinkBaby goes on the smoothest with the least amount of making our baby look like a zombie… you know the look when you can’t get the sunscreen rubbed in!

Feel free to read all about sunscreen and babies for more information about sunscreen safety and our reasons for always choosing this brand.

Anyway, back to sun hats.

If your baby is under 6 months, you will definitely need a sun hat. Pediatricians recommend not using sunscreen at all until 6 months of age, although the AAP recommends babies can use adult sunscreen if necessary [source: Seattle Children’s]. This is super tricky if you are going on a beach vacation, especially if you are from somewhere that doesn’t get a lot of sun, like we are.

We chatted with our pediatrician about this before our first trip at 4 months, and she recommended that we do use baby-safe sunscreen, but not let down our guard about staying in shade. One major reason that sunscreen isn’t recommended for babies is that it can lull parents into a sense of security and then they keep their babies out in the sun for too long. With a baby under 6 months, you still want to make sure you always have a sun hat and spend a big portion of your time under a UV-protectant shade.

Clearly we needed to do some hat shopping. This teeny-tiny hat is not going to cut it!

What to look for in a sun hat for a toddler or baby?

This toddler sun hat is doing it’s job! She’s got a lot of shade.

There are a few things to look for in a sun hat for baby. First and foremost: sun protection.

There are many very adorable baby sun hats out there that don’t actually do their #1 job. Hats make from woven straw, or with eyelets, or any other material that has lots of tiny holes are going to let in sunrays.

Some of those hats will have a liner inside, so you don’t have to rule a hat out just because of how it looks on the outside. But be sure to check whether the liner is a material that offers UV protection. We’ve owned a few hats that had a liner, but the liner was super thin – even see-through – cotton.

If you can see right through a material, it’s not going to offer true UV protection. But it will be better than nothing, that is for sure.

Ideally, you want a hat that states that it is made from material that protects from both UVA and UVB rays. That will offer the best protection, and you can trust that your baby could be in the sun all day without getting any amount of burn on her head.

While thicker materials might seem like they would be too hot, keep in mind that anything that lets UV rays through is actually going to overheat your baby much more quickly, even if there is airflow. Keeping the sun rays out will keep your baby’s head cooler than getting some breeze along with UV rays.

Another thing to look for is coverage. The best baby sun hats will cover not only the top of the head, but also the ears, neck, and shade more of the face.

Of course, how much coverage you want is up to you. You can get a cute baseball-style hat to protect the top of the head and shade the face, and just be sure to apply sunscreen very well to the ears and neck.

But the hats that I recommend will provide full sun coverage for all of the areas that are tough to apply sunscreen to, and that burn the easiest.

Another factor to take into consideration as you’re shopping is the way that the sun hat stays on a baby’s head.

A sunhat is only useful if your baby actually keeps it on!

Sun hats with ties or ones that tighten around the head are significantly easier to keep on a child’s head.

Along those same lines, comfort is an important quality for baby and toddler sun hats. If the material is scratchy, or if the hat is too tight, or if there is Velcro that pokes your baby, you’re much less likely to keep that hat on that baby.

This hat was super cute, but do you see the straps? They had Velcro attachments that were a bit scratchy, so we could never get her to keep it strapped under her chin. And because of that, it came off ALL THE TIME.

How to get a baby to keep a sun hat on?

This can be super tricky, and I know because both of my kids hated wearing hats as babies. But I was persistent, and through that experience I learned a few tricks to get even the most hat-hating baby to keep the sun hat on all day.

First, as I mentioned above, it is imperative that you choose a hat that is comfortable for your child. Anything scratchy or too tight just will not work.

You also might need to try a few different styles to see what your baby tolerates best. Some babies are fine with ties under their heads, but mine were not. We had much better luck with hats that scrunch and tighten behind the head, rather than tie below.

Start wearing the hat for short stints inside the house before you need it for the sun. On your beach vacation should not be the first time your child ever tries to keep something on his head. Practice makes perfect, and once the hat becomes a normal piece of clothing instead of something novel and weird, it’s much more likely to stay on.

One thing not to do: don’t buy whatever cute little fashion sun hat you find without checking for quality and protection. We did this a number of times, getting something adorable from H&M or Target, or even from the tourist shops at our destination. We always regretted it. Because while our baby would not get a full sun burn like she would without any hat, she’d still get slight pinkness through the hat, and she would overheat more easily. And that is bad news.

baby in sunhat in ocean mexico
Here’s a cute hat we found at Target. See how much light is visible through the brim? It’s the same where her head is (no lining). Better than no hat, but not really doing the trick.

The best sun hats for babies and toddlers

So with all that, I am ready to share my very favorite sun hats after trying easily a dozen or more over the years.

I have two favorite brands: SwimZip and Green Sprouts.

Here are both of my girls wearing Green Sprouts hat in two different styles.

Both of these brands are well-respected, mom-owned small businesses that focus on quality. SwimZip is primarily known for their UV protection swimwear, and was created after founder Betsy Johnson was diagnosed with skin cancer at the age of 26.

Green Sprouts (formerly known as i.play baby) makes the best swim diapers on the market and has been a leader in baby swim gear for decades. If you are interested, check out my very in-depth guide to swim diapers and why Green Sprouts get everything about them right.

Yes, there are lots of other brands out there, and you can find many cheaper versions of these on Amazon. But for an under-$10 difference, I will opt for the brands with a proven history that use high quality materials, because sun protection is a big deal.

Both of the brands that I discuss have different styles, but I will focus on the full-coverage styles that I purchased. Most of the features are the same for any of their hats, however!

Let’s start with Green Sprouts.

These were the first really great baby sun hats that we bought after trying so many useless hats, and we have loved them so much. In fact, we only moved on to trying out the SwimZip because Green Sprouts hats only go up to size 4T, and we were ready for something for our older child (SwimZip has sizes from baby to adult).

This hat is similar to the SwimZip in how it cinches below the head, and it does so in extra-cute fashion with the little sun-shaped toggle.

These two styles are the wide-brimmed version and the baseball cap with flaps. The advantage of the baseball cap style is that the flaps really hang right down around the neck, providing complete coverage, while the structure of the cap keeps it well out of my kid’s face.

The wide-brimmed version is structured and keeps it’s shape fairly well. It’s not a solid brim, like some, so it does have some flap. It is, in my opinion, way cuter. But it provides slightly less consistent coverage than the neck flaps and your child might be annoyed by it not holding it’s shape completely.

Both hats have been great and it really comes down to preference.

Where to buy?

You can find Green Sprouts on Amazon, or buy directly from their website for the best selection!

       
You can see how this hat does get floppy, especially when wet, but not enough to bother her. Also, this is a Green Sprouts swimsuit with built-in swim diaper, so we are accidentally fully reppin’ here!

We got a lot of use out of these hats while they fit, and we would have happily bought more of either style if we didn’t outgrow Green Sprouts’ age range. They held up really well to lots of abuse, and we felt great about passing them on to younger friends when the time came, because you could not tell that they had been through countless beach days and hikes.

Try to tell me that’s not the cutest sunhat you’ve seen.

And now for my other favorite: SwimZip.

This hat nicely shades her face, neck, and most of her shoulders. The brim stays really solid.

I’ve already mentioned the history of how this company was founded, so you can trust that SwimZip values UVA/UVB protection above all else.

But this hat has a lot of other great features that I love as well!

I like the breathable but still 50 SPF polyester material. I mentioned comfort is paramount to keeping this on your baby’s head, and this is a comfortable hat. The side venting helps a lot with airflow, without sacrificing safety.

I love how adjustable this hat is, and the elastic string with a toggle at the back helps cinch it to the head for just the right fit.

There is also an adjustable chin strap, which I have found was not necessary to tighten (because the hat already cinches behind the head), but is helpful for especially windy days. And it looks cute. The brim on the SwimZip is a little more solid than that of the Green Sprouts, without being too rigid.

One nice feature on this hat is the breakaway clip on the chin strap, which helps prevent choking and strangulation. This is something that I wish I’d see on more baby hats! We haven’t had any issue with it popping off unnecessarily, either.

While we are not nearly as on top of sun hat wearing now that we are in the preschool and older phase of life, this is still the brand that we will continue to buy, without a doubt, as we have outgrown Green Sprouts.

You can find SwimZip on Amazon as well.


This hat, borrowed on a boat in Vietnam, was the epitome of perfect sun protection. Which makes sense, as it belonged to people who spent their days on the ocean under the hot sun! It fit about as well as that life jacket did…

So there you have my favorites baby and toddler (and big kid!) sun hats. There are a million choices out there, but honestly for the minimal price difference, it really is worth it to go with a good brand for this one. Especially with baby skin, sun protection is a top priority.

Do I have a favorite between the two brands? Not really, honestly. You can’t go wrong with either. So choose the style that you like the best!

I hope you found these reviews helpful, and please let me know in the comments if you have any further questions or have another great recommendation!

EXCLUSIVELY FOCUSED ON TRAVEL WITH BABIES AND TODDLERS.

woman who travels with baby and toddler on bench with international background

I’m Dani.

I want to help you prepare to have the best trip ever, because of – not in spite of – bringing the baby. read more

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