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Facts About Sunburn

Did You Know?

Exposure to the sun during daily activities and play, rather than being at the beach, causes the most sun damage.

Overexposure to sunlight before age 18 is most damaging to the skin.

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.

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 6 months of age is to follow the ABCs 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 15 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 6 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 6 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:

Use of Sunscreen on Infants Younger Than 6 Months

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a new policy statement in 1999 approving the use of sunscreen on infants younger than 6 months old if adequate clothing and shade are not available. Using sunscreen on small areas of skin on an infant is not harmful, according to the AAP. Parents should still try to avoid sun exposure and dress the infant in lightweight clothing that covers most surface areas of skin. However, parents also may apply a minimal amount of sunscreen to the infant's face and back of the hands.

Always consult your infant's physician for more information.

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Online Resources of Common Childhood Injuries & Poisonings


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