Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
 

Sunburn

Sunburn

What is sunburn?

Sunburn is a visible reaction of the skin's exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, the invisible rays that are part of sunlight. Ultraviolet rays can also cause invisible damage to the skin. Excessive and/or multiple sunburns cause premature aging of the skin and lead to skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US and exposure to the sun is the leading cause of skin cancer.

Children often spend a good part of their day playing outdoors in the sun, especially during the summer. Children who have fair skin, moles, or freckles, or who have a family history of skin cancer, are more likely to develop skin cancer in later years.

Exposure to the sun during daily activities and play causes the most sun damage. Overexposure to sunlight before age 18 is most damaging to the skin.

UV rays are strongest during summer months when the sun is directly overhead (normally between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.).

What are the symptoms of sunburn?

The following are the most common symptoms of sunburn. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

Picture of a family picking seashells on the beach
  • Redness
  • Swelling of the skin
  • Pain
  • Blisters
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Weakness
  • Dry, itching, and peeling skin days after the burn

The symptoms of sunburn may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

First aid for sunburn:

When should I call my child's physician?

Specific treatment for sunburn will be determined by your child's physician and may depend on the severity of the sunburn. In general, call your child's physician if:

Preventing sunburn:

Protection from the sun should start at birth and continue throughout your child's life. It is estimated that 60 to 80 percent of total lifetime sun exposure occurs in the first 18 years of life.

The best way to prevent sunburn in children over six months of age is to follow the A, B, Cs recommended by The American Academy of Dermatology:

Away Stay away from the sun in the middle of the day. This is when the sun's rays are the most damaging.
Block Block the sun's rays using a SPF 30 or higher sunscreen. Apply the lotion 30 minutes before going outside and reapply it often during the day. Sunscreens should not be used on infants under six months of age.
Cover-up Cover up using protective clothing, such as a long sleeve shirt and hat when in the sun. Use clothing with a tight weave to keep out as much sunlight as possible. Keep babies less than six months old out of direct sunlight at all times. Hats with brims are important.

What are sunscreens?

Sunscreens protect the skin against sunburns and play an important role in blocking the penetration of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. However, no sunscreen blocks UV radiation 100 percent.

Terms used on sunscreen labels can be confusing. The protection provided by a sunscreen is indicated by the sun protection factor (SPF) listed on the product label. A product with an SPF higher than 15 is called a sunblock.

How to use sunscreens:

A sunscreen protects from sunburn and minimizes suntan by absorbing UV rays. Using sunscreens correctly is important in protecting the skin. Consider the following recommendations:

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