How to Soothe a Baby's Sunburn

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

Most parents understand the importance of sun safety during the hot summer months, but did you know babies are especially prone to damaging 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—even if you took the necessary sun safety precautions—don't panic. Keep reading to learn how to treat baby sunburn and prevent it from happening again.

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

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 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.

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 before bedtime.

Give Pain Medication, If Needed

If the 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," says Dr. Greene.

Make Them Comfortable

Keep your baby out of the sun until their burns get better. Hydration is also important for the baby sunburn healing process. And don't pop any blisters that appear!

When to Call the Doctor for Baby Sunburn

Most of the time, baby sunburn isn't a big deal, but you should give your 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 happens 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—like 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 the 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 the sunlight whenever possible—especially between 10 a.m and 4 p.m. when UV rays are harshest. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests applying sunscreen to babies over 6 months; the best 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.

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