Preventing sunburns is so important because even a “few blistering sunburns in childhood can double a person’s lifetime chances of developing serious forms of skin cancer.” The best way to prevent sunburn is through skin protection. We recommend staying in the shade as much as possible, wearing sun-protection swim shirts and hat, and applying sunscreen or sunblock to exposed skin. Sunscreen or sunblock should be applied at least every 2 hours. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests “about one ounce of sunscreen per application for a child.” For those infants younger than 6 months, the best protection is to stay out of direct sunlight and wear sun-protection clothing. In these youngest babies, where direct sun can’t be avoided, use sunscreen only on small areas of the body. In addition to protecting our skin, we must also protect our eyes. The AAP recommends wearing sunglasses “with at least 99% UV protection.”
Tips for choosing a sunscreen/sunblock for your child.
- Use a "Broad-spectrum" product. Broad spectrum means that the sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkles and age spots. UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburns.
- Use a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 and apply 30 minutes prior to sun exposure.
- Choose a water-resistant sunscreen and reapply every 2 hours, or after swimming, sweating or towel drying.
- Test sunscreen on a small area of skin first, like the inside of the child’s wrist, to be sure there is no irritation or rash development.
- If you have sensitive skin, try to avoid para-aminobenzoic (PABA) and benzophenone based sunscreens.
- Try to avoid sunscreens with the chemical oxybenzone which may have hormonal properties.
Sunblock vs Sunscreen
Sunblocks are physical barriers that reflect, scatter, and absorb both UVA and UVB rays from penetrating the skin. Sunblocks contain Zinc Oxide & Titanium Dioxide which rarely cause allergic reactions. Sunscreens change the sun’s rays after they penetrate the sunscreen. These products need to be labeled as “stable” or “photostable” to be most effective. For help choosing a product, look at the “best-rated sunscreens marketed specifically for use on babies and kids” found here: https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/best-kids-sunscreens/.
Sometimes, despite parents’ best efforts, sunburns happen. Call your pediatrician if your child (less than 1 year old) gets a sunburn, or if your child’s sunburn causes blisters, pain or fever. For those over 1 without a blistering burn, applying cool compresses and aloe vera gel to the area is often very helpful. Pain medication, such as ibuprofen (for those over 6 months) and acetaminophen (for those under 6 months) can also relieve pain. It is very important to keep the affected skin out of the sun until healed. Lastly, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.