Parenting is filled with many firsts, but some of those firsts can be alarming — such as when your baby gets his or her first sunburn. Knowing what to do to prevent a sunburn is important, but you also need to know what to do if your baby’s sensitive skin gets burned.
Children’s skin is much more sensitive than adults', so prevention is key. It takes less exposure to the sun for them to get a sunburn, and the effects can be much worse for them. It’s not something for parents to take lightly.
What to Do If Your Baby Gets a Sunburn
If your baby is less than a year old, you should contact your doctor as soon as you notice a sunburn. (Sometimes it can take a few hours for a sunburn to appear, so watch for symptoms like redness in the hours following time outside.) Let your doctor know what symptoms your baby is having, and she or will will be able to advise you on your next steps.
They may advise you to give a pain reliever like children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but always ask your doctor before giving either to a child who’s under the age of 1.
For children who are over the age of 1 and are only showing a little bit of redness, you probably don’t need to call your doctor. But you do want to keep a careful eye on the sunburn to make sure it isn’t serious. Some warning signs to watch for include:
- Blistering that occurs within the first 24 hours
- Swelling of the hands or face
- Running a fever or having chills
- Complaining about (or showing signs of) a headache
- Feeling pain
- Not feeling well overall
- Vomiting or fainting
Sunburns are uncomfortable at best, but at their worst they can be very harmful to a child — especially a baby. In a child under the age of 1, it can be more serious than it appears. So your doctor may want you to bring him or her in to make sure emergency treatment isn’t required.
Home Treatments for Baby’s Sunburn
When your baby gets a sunburn, your main goal is to help ease any pain they’re feeling. There are a few ways to do this. Start by applying cool (not ice-cold) compresses to the hot, burned skin for about 15 minutes several times a day. This can give some relief by bringing down the temperature of the skin.
A cool bath can also be effective in soothing sunburn pain; adding baking soda or an oatmeal-based children’s bath treatment is a good way to help take the sting out of the sunburn as well. After the bath, be sure to pat, not rub, baby’s skin dry to keep from irritating the damaged skin further.
You’ll also want to keep cool fluids going inside, too. For infants, breast milk or formula and for older children, water or other liquids can help replace fluids lost while being out in the heat. They also help the skin heal.
Aloe vera gel or a hypoallergenic moisturizer could also be applied, just make sure it is alcohol-free and designed for a baby’s sensitive skin.
Finally, make sure that you keep your child out of the sun until the burn has healed completely. It’s easy for their damaged skin to get burned again, so take proper precautions to ensure that they aren’t getting additional sun exposure.
What to Avoid When Baby Gets Sunburned
Along with knowing what to do, it’s important to know what not to do.
Make sure you don’t use any petroleum-based products, such as petroleum jelly, on your little one’s skin. The same goes for oils and butter. None of these products allow the skin to ‘breathe’ and can make the burn worse by trapping the heat and sweat.
First-aid sprays and ointments containing benzocaine should also be avoided since they can irritate your child’s skin or, even worse, cause an allergic reaction.
While your baby’s skin heals, avoid any tight or restrictive clothes and avoid breaking blisters since that can lead to an infection. If your baby does get blisters and a blister breaks, use an antibiotic ointment to treat it until it heals.
Prevention Is Your Safest Bet
Since sunburns aren’t just painful but can also increase your child’s risk of skin cancer in adulthood, it’s crucial to adopt safe sun practices in infancy that will last a lifetime. Just one single bad burn in infancy or childhood is linked to doubling the odds of malignant melanoma later in life, so follow these tips to keep your baby safe:
- Limit the amount of sun exposure your baby gets. This is especially true between peak hours (10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) when the sun is strongest. Remember, cloud cover isn’t the same as shade, so follow these rules even on overcast days.
- Use a child-safe sunscreen. Look for mineral-based sunscreens with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. But also keep in mind that sunscreen is not recommended for use on babies under six months old, so you’ll want to take other preventative measures instead.
- Dress them in protective clothing. Several clothing lines offer cute summer clothing with UV protection to keep your baby’s skin from being exposed to the sun. Make sure all the areas of your baby’s skin are covered if they’re out in the sun.
- Seek shade. Keeping out of direct sunlight will prevent exposure and ensure that your baby’s skin stays undamaged.
Sun safety is an important part of your baby’s overall health. Practicing safe sun habits will not only lower their risk of skin cancer later in life, but will help instill them with good skincare protection practices as they grow up.