Sunburns in Children: Focus on Prevention

Last updated on July 5th, 2018 at 05:08 pm

Summer vacations are creeping up fast, and if you’re anything like my family, that means heading to the beach. We love the beach. Love days spent relaxing on blankets, digging in the sand, discovering hidden treasures, and being soothed by the sound of the surf.

Beach days, however, need not be synonymous with sunburns. Summer safety is important and sunburns can cause long-lasting damage to the skin and children are especially at risk. All it takes is for a child to have one blistering sunburn in his/her childhood or adolescence to more than double their chance of developing melanoma.

So when it comes to sunburns, we must focus on prevention.

Here are a few summer safety tips to Prevent Sunburns:

  • Think of a sun protection package that includes: light clothing that covers arms and legs, sun protective bathing suits, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, shade, and sunscreen.
  • Choose a sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection. It should have an SPF of at least 15 (more than 45 is overkill). Reapply sunscreen every two hours.
  • Realize that the sun’s rays are most powerful and most damaging between the hours of 10 am to 4 pm.
  • Babies less than 6 months old should be kept out of direct sunlight. Seek shade for baby and keep him covered up. Apply sunscreen sparingly to exposed areas (i.e. cheeks and nose).
  • Check the safety of your sunscreen at the Environmental Working Group website. In general, opt for PABA free and choose a sunscreen with physical sun blockers (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) versus chemical blockers (like retinyl palmitate or oxybenzone).
  • Remember to apply sunscreen and the rest of your sun protective package even on foggy days!

Recognizing a Sunburn:

  • Signs of sunburn begin to show 6-12 hours after exposure.
  • Skin will appear red, warm, and likely will be painful to touch.
  • The height of discomfort occurs within the first 24 hours.
  • Severe sunburns may blister.
  • A child could also appear ill: fever, headache, and dehydration. If this is the case, your child needs to be seen by a doctor immediately.

Treatment of Sunburns:

  • Soothe skin with a cool compress and/or a cool bath. Pat skin dry.
  • Apply water-based lotions. Aloe is okay but avoid lotions containing alcohol.
  • Dress in loose and light clothing.
  • Offer plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
  • Do not use first aid sprays or medicated creams on the skin.
  • Keep in mind that peeling of the skin is part of the healing process.
  • For babies less than 1-year-old, any sunburn should be evaluated by a doctor.

By all means, go and enjoy those lazy summer beach days, just remember to protect your child’s skin and prevent sunburns from happening. Make sun safety a rule, not just an option, for your whole family. That means you parents, you are just as important as your children.

About the Author

Melissa is a board certified pediatrician and mom to two wonderful children ages 3 and 5. She writes about all things related to parenting and children's health. She also candidly shares her parenting moments on her blog, Confessions of a Dr.Mom.

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