Sunburn is due to overexposure of the skin to the ultraviolet rays of the sun or a sunlamp. Most people have been sunburned many times. Vacations can quickly turn into painful experiences when the power of the sun is overlooked. Unfortunately, the symptoms of sunburn do not begin until 2 to 4 hours after the sun's damage has been done. The peak reaction of redness, pain and swelling is not seen for 24 hours. Minor sunburn is a first-degree burn that turns the skin pink or red. Prolonged sun exposure can cause a second-degree burn developing blisters. Sunburn never causes third degree burns.

Repeated sun exposure and suntans cause premature aging of the skin, i.e. wrinkling sagging, and brown sunspots. Repeated sunburns increase the risk of skin cancer in the damaged area. Each blistering sunburn doubles the risk of developing malignant melanoma, which is the most serious type of skin cancer.

Home Care
Pain Relief: the sensation of pain and will probably last for 48 hours.

  • Aspirin or ibuprofen products started early and continued for 2 days can reduce the discomfort.
  • Non prescription 1/2% hydrocortisone cream or moisturizing creams applied 3 times a day may also cut down on swelling and pain but only if used early. Avoid petrolatum or other ointments because they keep the heat and sweat from escaping.
  • The symptoms can also be helped by cool baths or wet compresses several times a day. Showers are usually too painful.
  • Peeing will usually occur in about a week. Apply a moisturizing cream.
  • Make sure your child drinks extra water or a sports drinks to replace fluid lost to the swelling and to prevent dehydration and dizziness.

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to prevent sunburn. Although skin cancer occurs in adults, it is caused by the sun exposure and the sunburns that occurred during childhood. Every time you apply sunscreen to your child you are preventing skin cancer down the line.

  • Apply sunscreen anytime your child is going to be outside for more than 30 minutes.
  • Try to keep sun exposure to small amounts early in the season until a tan builds up. (CAUTION: Although people with a suntan can tolerate a little more sun, they can still get a serious sunburn.) Start with 15 to 20 minutes per day and increase by 5 minutes per day. Decrease daily exposure time if the skin becomes reddened. Because of the 2-4 hour delay before a sunburn starts to show, don't wait for the symptoms to tell you when its time to get out of the sun.
  • About 15% of white people have skin that never tans and only burns. These fair-skinned children need to be extremely careful about the sun throughout their lives. The big risk factors for sunburn are red hair, blond hair, blue eyes, green eyes. or freckles. These children are at an increased risk for skin cancer. They need to be instructed repeatedly to use a sunscreen throughout the summer and to avoid the sun whenever possible.
  • The skin of infants is thinner and more sensitive to the sun. Sunscreens, clothing that covers exposed skin, and a hat with a brim are essential for infants. Don't use a sunscreen that contains PABA on infants less than 6 months old.
  • Avoid the sun between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., that's when the sun's rays are the most intense.
  • Don't let overcast days give you a false sense of security. Over 70% of the sun's rays still get through the clouds. Also, over 30% of the suns rays can penetrate loosely woven fabrics (for instance, a T-shirt). -
  • The sun's intensity increases 4% for each 1000 feet of elevation. A sunburn can occur quickly when hiking in mountainous areas.
  • Water, sand, or snow increases the amount of the sun's rays due to refection. Likewise, because of the window glass, being inside an automobile is on guarantee of protection. Neither will a hat nor umbrella protect you from reflected rays.
  • Also protect your child's eyes. Years of exposure to ultraviolet light increase the risk of cataracts. Buy sun glasses with ultraviolet (UV) protection.
  • Set a good example. Did you apply your sunscreen?

There are good sunscreens on the market that prevent sunburn but still permit gradual tanning to occur. The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) or filtering power of the product determines what determines what percentage of the ultraviolet rays get through to the skin. The SPF of various products ranges from 2 to 50. SPF15 allows only 1/15 (7%) of the sun's rays to get through and thereby extends safe sun exposure from 20 minutes to 5 hours. For practical purposes, an SPF higher than 15 is rarely needed because sun exposure beyond 5 hours is unusual. Fair-skinned whites (with red or blond hair) need a sunscreen of SPF15 or higher. Most whites need an SPF of 8-10, and Mediterranean whites need an SPF of 6-8. The simplest approach is to use an SPF15 or greater on a white children.

Apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before exposure to the sun to give it time to penetrate the skin. Give special attention to the areas most likely to become sunburned, such as your child's nose, ears, cheeks and shoulders. Most products need to be reapplied every 3 to 4 hours as well as immediately after swimming or profuse sweating. A "waterproof" sunscreen stays on for about 30 minutes in water. Do not towel off after swimming. Most people apply too little sunscreen, the average adult requires about 1 ounce of sunscreen per application.

To prevent sunburned lips, apply a lip coating that also contains PABA. If your child's nose or any other area has been repeatedly burned during the summer, protect it completely from all the sun's rays with zinc oxide ointment.

Common Mistakes in Treating Sunburn
Avoid applying ointments or butter to a sunburn; they are painful to remove and not helpful. Don't buy any first aid creams or sprays for burns. They often contain Benzocaine that can cause an allergic rash. Don't confuse sunscreens that block the sun's burning rays with suntan lotions or oil's that mainly lubricate the skin.

Call Your Doctor Immediately if
  • Your child becomes unable to look at lights because of eye pain.
  • An unexplained fever over 102° F (38.9° C) occurs.
  • The sunburn becomes infected.
  • Your child starts acting very sick.
  • During Regular Office Hours if:
  • The blisters start to break open.
  • You have other concerns or questions.