Summer Sun Protection and Swim Gear for Kids

It felt like winter would never end in Seattle this year, and yet all of a sudden I find myself slathering sunscreen on the kids when we're out and about. Worse, I'm repeating the rush that I endure each year as we buy our shorts and swimsuits just as the stores start to close out on summer gear and bring in their fall collections. As I stock up for warm weather, I thought I'd share what's in my cart.

E explores the sand at Crystal Cove in Laguna Beach, CA
E explores the sand at Crystal Cove in Laguna Beach, CA
A Hat

Hats are tricky. It seems like the cutest styles don't have much of a brim, and don't offer much sun protection, and it can be hard to get kids to keep on a hat with ear flaps. I also prefer a hat with a strap so that the hat will stay on in windy weather.

The best choice I've found for for young kids is the iPlay Babywear Brim Hat. They come in lots of colors, and range in size from newborn to 18 months.

For older kids, I like this Coolibar UPF 50+ Kids' Chlorine Resistant Bucket Sun Hat

And I'm wearing this San Diego Women's Ribbon Large Brim Hat this year. I perked mine up with a cute flower pin from the women's accessories department.

Swim Diaper
All three of my kids have used these great iPlay White Ultimate Swim Diapers They really do work better than disposables, and they're less expensive ($10 for a swim diaper you can use all season long instead of $11 for a pack of 18 disposables).

If you like the look of a more traditional swimming suit, you can either layer the swimdiaper underneath a swimsuit, or check out iPlay's Swim Trunks that have the swim diaper built in or their Girls Tanksuits

Rash Guard Shirts
For infants and toddlers, I think a one-piece rashguard suit is the easiest way to go. There's no risk of a gap between the top and the bottom, and it's easier to put on than multiple pieces. The long sleeve suits let you use less sunscreen, but I think they end up being uncomfortable in hot weather once your child is out of the water, so I prefer a short sleeve suit. This year, I ordered a One-Piece Sunsuit by Iplay. Amazon doesn't have the right size chart online, so I tracked it down and pasted it in here for you!

iPlay Swimwear size chart
iPlay Swimwear size chart

For older kids, Michelle Duffy Wandermom recommended these Lands End Rash Guard Shirts to me a few years ago. And she's right! They're affordable, come in great colors, and the quality is excellent. Best of all, I've had good luck finding them online off-season.


Meg at Backpack to Buggy had a fabulous post on Safest Sunscreens for Kids a while back that's just jam-packed with great advice, so I won't try to repeat that here. (Note: Meg just posted an update to her original article about safe sunscreens)

What I will say is that for the past 5 years, I've ordered several tubes of Vanicream Sunscreen at the beginning of summer. For us, this is the brand that works best - it doesn't irritate Everest's sensitive skin, it goes on easily and has never stained anyone's clothing, and while it's not cheap, I do get a lot of mileage out of a tube. Each tube is stamped with an expiration date, making it easy to discard the dregs of old tubes once they're past their prime (sunscreen typically lasts about a year). I also order a few sticks of Neutrogena Baby Sunblock Stick . These sticks are compact enough that I keep one in my purse at all times, and they work great when we find ourselves in the sunshine unexpectedly.

Everest writes his name and Darya's on Waikiki Beach
Everest writes his name and Darya's on Waikiki Beach

In my opinion, this is a place to exercise caution. Remember that sunglasses can cause damage if they don't provide adequate UVA and UVB protection. The best solution is to forgo the sunglasses and keep your kids in the shade when you can. If your kids must wear sunglasses, remember that the cute pair of glasses at the drugstore or your local kids store might not provide UV protection. According to the Mayo Clinic, you should "Choose sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays. Skip sunglasses that are labeled "cosmetic" and those that don't offer details on UV protection. Opt for larger lenses rather than smaller lenses — or, better yet, the wraparound variety."

Your very best bet is to have a prescription pair of glasses made (Costco sells prescription frames and lenses for kids at a reduced price). Second best would be to order sunglasses, preferably wraparound style, from a reputable manufacturer that specializes in making glasses. Baby Banz Sunglasses specializes in kids and infants sunglasses, guarantees 100% UV protection and makes the fitted wraparound style frames that work well for very young kids.

Shade on the Go
It's useful to have your own portable shade - afterall, it's better to keep baby out of the sun altogether (especially at naptime) than to layer on sun-protection products. If you don't want to haul along an adult size tent, the KidCo PeaPod folds up into a small carrybag and provides a cozy kid sized tent that you can use on the beach or in a hotel room. You can read my full review of the PeaPod Travel Bed here.

Fun in the Sun
Check out my full post on Easy to Carry Toys for Beach or Sun

Reader Question: Do you have any tips for Summer Gear?

Disclosure: I received review copies of the PeaPod Portable bed and Baby Banz. Neither manufacturer requested that I provide any opinion other than my own. Per my review policy, these items have been given away. I have not been paid to review any of these products. If you purchase a product through one of my amazon links, I do receive a small commission, and that income helps me keep this site going.

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  1. Bluegreen Kirk on June 1, 2011 at 6:04 a.m.

    Great tips! I can surely attest that the hat, sunscreen and rash guard shirts are a must especially since I live in sunny south Florida. Not only do kids need to be protected but so do adult. Hopefully i wont see any adults wearing swim diapers, lol.

  2. Alley on May 28, 2012 at 12:03 p.m.

    Just wanted to let you know that there has been an infant suffocation death in the kidco PeaPod, so if a younger child is using it, it may not be the best option to recommend anymore.
    I really hope they redesign it to be breathable at the bottom because it would be the best option for us for travel to a malaria zone!!