Believe it or not, people receive up to 50 percent of our lifetime UV exposure before the age of 20. In short, that means preventing sunburn in children is essential to reduce their risk of skin cancer later in life.
It only takes 15 minutes for the sun’s harmful UV radiation to damage your child’s skin. Symptoms can appear anywhere from 6-12 hours after excessive exposure, and include:
- Red skin
- Peeling skin after several days
While third-degree burns are rare with sunburn, second degree burns are possible and are trademarked by blistering skin. “Sun poisoning” occurs in instances of severe exposure and can yield extreme symptoms including swelling, nausea, and chills.
Both UVB and UVA rays can harm a child’s skin; the former is responsible for the burning sensation, while the latter – which penetrates deeper layers – ages the skin. Both rays contribute to the development of skin cancers like melanoma later in life.
While at-home remedies – such as OTC pain medications to alleviate pain, cool compresses, and topical ointments – can make a child more comfortable, there are no known medical treatments that can reverse skin damage caused by the sun, long term.
Preventing sunburn in children is the key. Consider these tips before heading outdoors this summer.
- Lather up: Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 15 (at the very least) approximately 30 minutes before your child plays outdoors. Make sure to cover all exposed areas, including the tips of the ears, the nose, lips, and the tops of the feet.
- Ditch the shorts and tee-shirts: When not at the pool or the waterpark, opt for long-sleeved shirts and long pants or jeans. Tighter weaves and darker colors will offer more protection, obviously, though they also attract heat.
- Accessorize: Hats offer top-notch protection for your child’s scalp, ears, face, and neck. If wearing a baseball cap, be sure to apply sunscreen to his or her neck. Sunglasses, too, are important safety gear components. Ultraviolet rays can cause cornea damage in only a day’s time, and can lead to cataracts later in life. Look for sunglasses that wrap the head and offer 100% UVA and UVB protection.
- Watch the clock: UV rays are at their peak during the midday (typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). So schedule activities earlier in the morning or in the late afternoon.
- Seek shade: If outdoors for an extended period of time, escape the sun’s rays and take temporary shelter under a tree or pavilion.
- Apply and apply again: Don’t trust “water-resistant” or “waterproof” claims. Reapply sunscreen throughout the day after vigorous activity or swim time.
- Don’t be fooled: It’s a widespread misconception that cloudy days cannot cause sunburn. They can and they do. Damaging ultraviolet rays are invisible to the eye, and cooler, drearier days can create a false sense of security leading to extended playtime outdoors – and increased exposure.
- Protect the baby: Keep infants out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Dress them in lightweight cotton clothing with long sleeves and pants; use wide brimmed sun hats to protect a baby’s head and face; and apply sunscreen to small exposed areas of skin a half an hour before going outdoors.
If your child’s sunburn causes blistering or other severe symptoms, such as nausea, fever, chills, or swelling, contact your pediatric provider as soon as possible. Keep in mind: KinderMender is open daily throughout the summer for any of your urgent care needs.