Taking the pain out of sunburn

If you search for “home remedies for sunburn” on the internet, you’ll come up with hundreds of options, from the logical (aloe) to some that are quite odd (a poultice of boiled and mashed cabbage leaves). If it’s too late for prevention, then treating your child’s sunburn involves keeping the child comfortable and knowing the signs that indicate a need to consult a physician.

Treating a Sunburn

The first step for treating sunburn is to keep the child out of the sun until the burn is completely healed. Apply aloe lotion frequently to all affected areas to soothe the burning sensation. You can give a child an over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, to help to relieve any pain or discomfort. Of the two, ibuprofen may be more effective as it will also help to reduce any inflammation, but be sure the child has eaten before taking ibuprofen. Follow all label directions carefully when giving either medication to a child. To help prevent peeling skin, frequently apply a good quality, fragrance-free moisturizing lotion. Sunburn will often cause an uncomfortable itching sensation. If this is keeping your child from being able to rest, you can give him or her an over-the-counter antihistamine, but, again, carefully follow label instructions for the correct dose.

When to call the doctor

Contact your child’s physician if your sunburned child begins to vomit, develops a fever, is not able to be comfortable or if you notice the formation of blisters on your child’s skin. You also need to call the physician for advice whenever a child younger than one year old experiences a sunburn.


Of course, prevention remains the easiest and best treatment for sunburn. Prevention makes sure your children can continue having fun in the sun and could protect them from serious health concerns in the future.

Each year, about one million individuals – mostly older adults – will learn that they have skin cancer.

Overexposure to the sun is the main cause and about two thirds of that lifetime exposure happens before the age of 18. Protect your children by making sure that they apply sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen should be re-applied every two hours while in the sun as well as after swimming or after activities that cause a lot of perspiration. Shirts, sunglasses and hats with brims are important added layers of prevention.

Be a good role model about sun safety by covering up and using sunscreen when you go outdoors. Although it may not be a popular message to older children and teenagers, remind them that no one is immune from the sun’s harmful rays and there is no such thing as a “healthy tan.” Tanning results from damage caused by the sun and this damage is permanent, becoming worse with each successive summer tan.

Originally published in The University Doctors' MedicaLink - 07/07

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