Pediatric Sun Exposure

From recess and soccer games to days at the pool, our children spend a significant amount of times outdoors. During these times out in the sun, it is crucial to help protect them against damaging sun exposure. 

The sun gives off invisible radiation called ultraviolet light, which is strong enough to break through the clouds even on an overcast day. These rays can harm your child’s skin and eyes, causing sunburns and even cataracts. 

Fortunately, there are preventive measures you can take to prevent your child from sun exposure.

Use sunscreen

To prevent pediatric sun exposure in all children besides infants, first, apply sunscreen. Then apply sunscreen again. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 anytime your child is going to be in the sun. To make sunscreen most effective, apply it a half hour before going outside and reapply it throughout the day if needed. 

For extra protection, use sunglasses, hats, umbrellas, and clothing that covers your arms and legs.

Infants and sun exposure

An infant’s skin is thinner and more sensitive to UV rays, risking more serious damage. Sunburns can cause fever and dehydration, or redness. The best protection for infants against the sun includes hats, infant sunglasses, blankets, and covers or sun shields on the stroller. 

Be cautious with sunscreen as most sunscreen products have not been tested on infants. If you do decide to use a sunscreen, be sure to test it first on your baby’s wrist and watch for a reaction.

Treatment of sunburns

Even with preventive measures in place, there is still a chance that your child will experience a sunburn at some point in his or her childhood. If your child experiences a sunburn, here are several measures you can take to help the healing process and reduce pain:

  • Give cool baths and apply compresses: A good place to start with sunburns is to give your son or daughter a cool bath. You can also apply cool compresses (e.g. ice pack, washcloth, etc.) throughout the day. For additional skin soothing relief, try adding two to three tablespoons of baking soda to the bathwater.

  • Avoid creams, ointments, and sprays: Think twice before using soap, ointments, or butter directly on a sunburn, which can exacerbate the pain. You should also avoid using any of the usual first-aid creams and sprays as they contain chemicals that may actually cause more pain.

  • Use ibuprofen or acetaminophen: To reduce inflammation, give your child ibuprofen (Advil® and Motrin®) or acetaminophen (Tylenol®) rather than aspirin. Don’t be alarmed when the burned skin begins to peel off, which usually happens after about a week.

Contacting your pediatrician

In most cases you do not need to consult with your pediatrician about a sunburn. However, if your child is complaining of eye pain, has a fever, or if their sunburn becomes infected you should call your child’s pediatrician.

© 2018 Intermountain Healthcare. All rights reserved. The content presented here is for your information only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and it should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns.