Preventing Sunburns

The weather has stabilized, school is over, and vacations are planned. This means your family will be spending more time outside and in the heat. Remembering a few safety measures can make the difference between fun in the sun and unwanted sunburns.

Sun is a great source of warmth, Vitamin D, and good karma, but with overexposure it can lead to burns, blisters, and pain. The younger the child, the thinner the skin and the easier it is to get a sunburn so ensure you are using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, or better yet 50. Before heading outdoors, apply a small amount on your child’s leg to see if there is an allergic reaction to the brand. No sunscreen protects 100% and typically will only last for a few hours before it needs to be reapplied. If the skin is exposed to water including pool water, running through sprinklers, or swimming in a lake or ocean, it must be reapplied after contact. Reapplication of sunscreen is very important and the easiest task to forget.

It is best to keep infants out of direct, bright sunlight as they tend to burn more quickly (even with sunscreen in place). A burn can even occur in partial shade, such as under a tree or patio cover. Even the reflection from pool water can intensify these harmful rays – eyelids and even the eyeballs can burn. Sunglasses may help shield the eyes of older children, but you may encounter some push-back if you attempt to put shades on your baby or toddler. Although they may look cute in photos, most babies and young children remove glasses off their faces quickly. Also know that all skin reacts differently and sunburns can occur in as little as a few minutes.

If a burn has occurred, place a cool, wet cloth on the affected area. Use sunburn lotion or aloe gel as a coolant and a cover-up, however know these do not speed the healing process but simply act as a soother for the pain. If there are small blisters that have not ruptured, use your wet cloth and then apply the lotion after. If the color is deep red, there are many blisters, or the pain is very intense then see your source of medical care immediately. The areas of any burn should not be exposed to sunlight until the color of the skin is back to normal.

Skin cancer has an apparent relationship to the amount of damage the skin has suffered from sun exposure. Don’t take unnecessary chances – make sure to have your sunscreen handy all summer!

By Bruce Gach, M.D. 

Bruce is the managing partner of Livermore-Pleasanton-San Ramon Pediatrics Group. He is a Board Certified practicing pediatrician with over 30 years of experience caring for children. He has served on numerous committees dealing with child health and development.