Sunburn and your baby

Your baby has sunburn if you notice skin that is pink or red, warm, and painful, with or without blisters. Sunburn symptoms may not start for two or more hours after the sun damage has occurred. Once you have determined that the baby has sunburn, your goals should be to stop the burning and treat the burn.

Tips

To prevent sunburn:

  • Stop the burning! Get your baby out of both direct and indirect sunlight.
  • Sunscreens are needed during all four seasons!
  • Use sunscreens that block both UV-A (the skin-damaging rays) and UV-B (the skin-burning rays). Reapply sunscreens regularly (approximately every 2 hours). Reapply sunscreens more often if the child is swimming or sweating. Try the water-resistant sunscreens.
  • Apply the sunscreen 20 minutes before your child is to go outside. Avoid having children outside between 11 am and 3 pm (daylight saving time), when sun's rays are the strongest. Replace your sunscreens yearly.
  • Children need protection from all aspects of the sun: use eyeglasses, hats, sunblocks for noses and lips, and appropriate clothing. Parents are role models for proper skin care; be a good example.

If sunburn does occur:

  • Either put the child in a cool bath or wrap in a cool wet towel. Do this regularly, especially in the first few hours. This may help reduce the depth and extent of the burn.
  • Use pediatric acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain relief.
  • Try oatmeal (or Aveeno® colloidal powder) or baking soda in the bath to reduce discomfort.
  • Use an antihistamine to reduce itchiness. Do not administer antihistamines in children less than 6 months old without first consulting your family doctor.
  • Do not apply butter, lard, margarine, vitamin E, petroleum jelly, honey, warm water, tea bags, or sunburn anesthetic sprays to sunburned skin.
  • Wash blistered areas daily with mild soap and water, pat dry, and cover with an antibiotic ointment and a dry sterile dressing.

Case study

Jody was 11 months old when she was brought in to the office.

"We were at a family picnic yesterday and she somehow got a sunburn on her arms and scalp," explained her mother. "She spent the day on a blanket underneath a tree so I didn't think she needed any sunscreen. I tried to keep her hat on but she just kept pulling it off. The only time she was actually out in the sun was when the relatives were passing her around. I feel terrible. She was whining all night and wouldn't eat her breakfast this morning."

Examination revealed a girl with good hydration but a first-degree burn to her scalp, arms, and legs.

Jody had her first sunburn.

When to take your baby to the doctor

Take your baby to your family doctor or to the emergency department immediately if you notice any of the following:

  • extensive burns
  • skin blisters or open sores
  • fever greater than 101.3°F
  • headaches
  • excessive sweating
  • fainting spells
  • skin that looks infected
  • baby looks or acts sick
  • signs of dehydration
  • vomiting

Trade secrets

  • The best treatment for sunburn is prevention, especially in babies.
  • Infants, because their skin is thin, are at increased risk for burns.
  • The skin is red in first-degree burns.
  • The skin has blisters in second-degree burns.
  • First- and second-degree burns rarely leave scars.
  • To heal without scarring, prevent the burned skin from getting infected.
  • Pain usually lasts for 48 hours. Skin peeling usually occurs within 7 to 10 days of the burn.
  • Burning causes dehydration so encourage your child to drink more fluids.
  • The risk of malignant melanoma doubles with each blistering sunburn.
  • Infants, because they are less able to sweat and control their body temperature, are at increased risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Medications and treatments

  • lip balms with UV protection
  • sunscreens with UV-A and UV-B protection (not all products protect against both); purchase sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher
  • zinc creams: excellent for protecting noses, lips, and tips of ears
  • ibuprofen (e.g., Infants' Advil®, Infants' Motrin®): may both treat the pain and reduce the depth or extent of the burn by reducing skin inflammation
  • antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl®, Claritin®) to reduce the discomfort of itch; do not give antihistamines to children less than 6 months old without first consulting your family doctor

Definitions

  • SPF (sun protection factor) is a rating scale for the protective ability of sunscreens. SPF-30 gives you more protection than SPF-15, and SPF-15 gives more protection than SPF-8 does.
  • Sunburn is the burning of the skin, lips, etc., as a result of excessive sun (ultraviolet light) exposure.
  • Other words for sunburn are burned, burnt, cooked, fried, lobsterized, scorched, or roasted.
 
Excerpt from Your Home Doctor - Babies

The contents of this health site are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition.

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