Sunburn Prevention

What Is a Sunburn?

  • A sunburn is skin damage that can happen when a person is in the sun for too long. 
    • The sun gives off "ultraviolet" or "UV" light, which is what causes sunburn. 
  • It is possible to get a sunburn even on a cloudy day because UV light can go through clouds. 
    • Children are particularly susceptible to sunburns due to their sensitive skin.

Factors that Increase the Risk of Sunburn

  • Pale skin and light-colored hair
  • Spending time in the sun without adequate protective clothing or sunscreen
  • Being around snow, water, or sand can reflect the sun
  • Being at a high altitude

Tips for Preventing Sunburns

  • Always use sunscreen!
    • Remember that you can get sunburned even on cloudy days because up to 80% of the sun's UV rays can get through the clouds.
    • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.
  • It’s best to limit sun exposure between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm when UV rays are strongest.
  • When kids are outdoors at the hottest time of day, make sure they take frequent breaks in the shade.
  • Good clothing options include tightly woven lightweight material, long sleeves, and pants.
    • SPF-rated clothing and hats are also a good idea to protect your child's skin when they're outdoors.
    • Have them wear a hat with a wide brim that covers the neck well. 
  • Use a beach umbrella or similar object to keep your child in the shade as much as possible.
  • Babies under 6 months of age should be kept out of direct sunlight. 
    • If adequate clothing and shade are not available, sunscreen may be used on small areas of the body, such as the face and the backs of the hands.

Signs and Symptoms of Sunburns

  • Skin that is still red an hour after being inside in cooler temperatures.
    • Heat itself can cause temporary reddening of the skin. 
  • Skin that feels warm or hot to the touch an hour after being inside in cooler temperatures.
    • Skin can temporarily feel warm or hot to the touch from heat as well.
  • Skin that is painful to the touch.
  • More severe sunburns can cause blistering, fever, chills, and headaches.
  • Sunburns are not always apparent immediately following sun exposure.
    • Signs of sunburn usually appear 3-6 hours after exposure.
    • Your child will experience the greatest discomfort during the first 24 hours.
  • Redness peaks approximately 12 to 24 hours after sun exposure and typically fades over 72 hours.

Home Care for Soothing Sunburns

  • If your child’s burn is just red, warm, and painful you can treat it at home.
    • Apply cool compresses to the burned areas or bathe your child in cool water.
    • You can also give your child pain medicine such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to relieve painful sunburns. 
  • Severe sunburns must be treated like any other serious burn. 
    • Refer to our resource article on “Burns."
  • Give your child water or 100% fruit juice and monitor for at least one wet diaper or a trip to the bathroom every 8 hours.
  • Apply aloe-based products.
  • Keep your child out of the sun until the sunburn is fully healed.

When to Reach Out to the Modern Pediatrics Team

  • If your baby is younger than 12 months and gets a sunburn.
  • If your child is older than 12 months and they are experiencing blistering, pain, or fever with their sunburn that is not improved with pain-reducing medications and cool compresses.
  • If you are concerned that your child is dehydrated and not urinating at least once every 8 hours.
  • If your child has intense thirst.
  • If your child feels faint and tired.