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Caring for kids with sunburn: Tips every parent should know

You bought the sunscreen, and you’re careful to apply it. Unfortunately, it can still happen – sunburn. It’s important to take it seriously and keep it from happening again, since the risk of melanoma increases each time a child has a sunburn.

As a pediatrician for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, here are some ways I explain to children and families how to care for a sunburn:

Act fast to cool down

Cover up and get out of the sun immediately. Continue to cool the burn with a cold compresses but don’t apply ice directly to the sunburn. Take a cool shower or bath, but not for too long since it can be drying. Avoid harsh soap, which might irritate the skin even more.


While skin is still damp, use a gentle moisturizing lotion. Repeat to keep burned or peeling skin moist over the next few days.

Manage pain and inflammation

At the first sign of sunburn, taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, can help with discomfort and inflammation. You can continue with the NSAIDs as directed until the burn feels better. You can also use a 1 percent over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream as directed for a few days to help calm redness and swelling. Aloe vera may also soothe mild burns and is generally considered safe. It is important to wear loose, soft, breathable clothing to avoid further skin irritation, and stay out of the sun.

Replenish fluids

Burns draw fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body, so dehydration is a risk. It’s important to rehydrate by drinking extra liquids, including water, immediately and while skin heals.

See a doctor if …

Get medical help if your child has severe blistering over a large portion of the body, has a fever and chills, or is woozy or confused. Don’t scratch or pop blisters, which can lead to infection. Signs of infection include red streaks or oozing pus.

Prevention tips

Follow these guidelines to prevent another case of sunburn:

  • Children six months of age and younger should avoid the sun and be dressed in a long sleeve shirt, pants, hat and sunglasses.
  • Children six months of age or older should use sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. It should be SPF 30, water resistant and broad spectrum against UV A and B rays. Reapply every two hours and after being in the water.
  • It is not recommended that children use a sunscreen that is combined with an insect repellent.

The bottom line on sunburn is that skin will heal, but real damage has been done. Remember how bad this sunburn felt, then commit to protecting yourself and your child with sunscreen and clothing, every day, all year long.