How to Soothe a Baby's Sunburn

Despite slathering them in sunscreen, your baby’s tender skin still got burned. Don’t panic! Here’s how to treat their sunburn at home and when to call a doctor.

We all know the importance of sun safety for kids (and adults). However, despite taking precautions, your baby still might get a sunburn. Babies are especially prone to damage from UV rays. That's because they have delicate and sensitive skin, says Debra M. Langlois, M.D., an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Michigan.

If your little one suffered a sunburn, don't panic. Sunburns can happen even if you took the necessary sun safety precautions. Keep reading to learn how to treat a baby's sunburn and prevent it from happening again.

An image of a baby on a beach.
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Baby Sunburn Treatment

Sunburns range in severity, from causing slight discomfort and redness to pain, peeling, and blistering of the skin. Sunburn pain typically lasts about 48 hours. Follow these steps to keep your baby comfortable and prevent further damage.

Cool them off

When it comes to treating a baby's sunburn, most doctors suggest cooling the skin down with a cool compress or tepid bath (add some soothing baking soda or oatmeal bath powder). That's because there can be ongoing damage as long as the skin is hot, says Alan Greene, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician in Portola Valley, California.

Moisturize their skin

Once your baby's skin has cooled off, Dr. Greene says the greatest ongoing damage comes from the skin drying out. Combat dryness by applying a gentle, alcohol-free moisturizer. Aloe vera formulas are very popular for sunburns, but some kids are allergic to them, so it's best to skip this if you're unsure—the last thing you'd want is another rash! Dr. Greene also likes moisturizers containing vitamin E. Apply the moisturizer a couple of times a day, especially after a bath and before bedtime.

Give pain medication, as needed

If your baby has a particularly bad sunburn with skin inflammation, give them a dose of ibuprofen (for babies 6 months and older) to minimize swelling and ease the pain. "It works best when the pain is caused by inflammation (red, tender, hot, or swollen tissue.) It's anti-inflammatory so it stops the pain at the site of the inflammation," explains Dr. Greene.

Make them comfortable

Keep your baby out of the sun until their sunburn gets better. Hydration is also important for your baby's sunburn healing process. Dress them in soft fabrics and light layers that won't irritate their skin. And don't pop any blisters that appear, as that could damage their skin—and potentially leave scars.

When to Call the Doctor for Baby Sunburn

Most of the time, baby sunburn isn't a big deal, but you should give your child's doctor a call if your child is less than 1 year old. Also, let your doctor know if they have blisters, feel weak or sick, complain of eye pain, or have a burn that looks infected. Symptoms of an infected burn include draining pus, angry red streaks, and worsening after 48 hours. Though this only happens very rarely, you should call 911 if your child faints, is disoriented or unable to stand, or you have difficulty waking them.

Preventing Baby Sunburn

The symptoms of sunburn—pain, blistering, and peeling—probably come with plenty of fussiness and tears. But that's not all: Sunburns increase your risk of skin cancer, and most of a person's lifetime sun damage is done by the time kids turn 18 years old, says Adena Rosenblatt, M.D., Ph.D, a pediatric dermatologist at The University of Chicago Comer Children's Hospital.

To prevent sunburn, parents should keep their babies out of direct sunlight whenever possible—especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are strongest. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends applying sunscreen to babies over 6 months old and spot applying it to younger babies on exposed areas if they must be in the sun.

The best sunscreen options are mineral-based physical sunscreens with active ingredients of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming or sweating, and find out if any of your baby's meds increase their sensitivity to the sun (some antibiotics do).

Whenever you venture outside, it also helps to dress babies in sun-protective clothing like lightweight pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats with wide brims. Seek shade whenever possible to enjoy the fresh air without being exposed to the sun's damaging rays.

The Bottom Line

Optimal sun safety includes avoiding direct sunlight during peak hours, applying sunscreen, and staying in the shade. These measures are very important for your baby's skin health. Even still, despite your best intentions, sometimes sunburns happen. Don't beat yourself up. Just do what you can to soothe your baby's tender skin—and aim to do your best to protect your baby from the sun's rays in the future.

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