Sunburn in Babies: Signs, Treatment and Prevention

Sunburn in Babies – Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Rashmi Sriram (Dermatologist)
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Is your baby the outdoorsy type? If she loves running about outdoors during the day, there is a chance she could have an infant sunburn without the right precautions. Learn about the symptoms, treatment, and preventive measures that can be taken to avoid sunburn in children.

Video: Easy Tips & Precautions for Baby Sunburn

What Is Sunburn?

Sunburn is a condition in which the skin, when overexposed to Ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB rays), becomes red or reddish in colour, warm, and feels tender and sore. In a few day’s time, the skin in the sunburnt area becomes flaky and peels off.

What Causes Sunburn in Infants?

Sunburn in infants can occur when a baby’s delicate skin is exposed to excessive sunlight without adequate protection. Babies have particularly sensitive skin, making them more vulnerable to sunburn than adults. Several factors contribute to sunburn in infants:

  • Thin and Delicate Skin: Babies have thinner and more delicate skin compared to adults, which offers less natural protection against harmful UV rays.
  • Limited Melanin Production: Melanin is the pigment that provides some protection against the sun’s UV rays. Infants have limited melanin production, leaving them more susceptible to sunburn.
  • Increased Surface Area: A baby’s head is proportionally larger than their body, increasing the surface area of exposed skin when they are lying down or sitting up, making them more prone to sunburn.
  • Inability to Move: Infants can’t move or shift their position independently, which means they may stay in the sun for extended periods without being able to seek shade.
  • Lack of Sunscreen Use: Sunscreen is not recommended for infants under six months old due to their sensitive skin. This absence of protection can lead to sunburn.
  • Unprotected Outdoor Activities: Taking infants outdoors without appropriate protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and shade can expose them to excessive sunlight.

What Are the Signs of Baby Sunburn?

After a day out in the sun, look out for the following sunburn in babies symptoms.

  • Considerable burns
  • Skin blisters
  • 3-degree fever or more
  • Severe headaches
  • Excess sweat
  • Dizzy and lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Cranky baby
  • Dehydration
  • Pus in the blisters/sores
  • Vomiting

Should You Be Worried About Baby Skin Damage From the Sun?

Babies before the age of 6 months are at a high risk of skin damage when exposed to the sun. During infancy, the melanin in the skin hasn’t yet developed. Therefore, exposure to direct sunlight during infancy increases the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.

How to Treat and Soothe Infant Sunburn?

Here are a number of baby sunburn treatment ways to give your baby sunburn relief. Check out what to put on baby sunburn.

  • If your baby is less than 6 months of age, breastfeed more than usual. However, in the case of older kids, you can give lots of water or fresh fruit juice to drink.
  • Keep a cool wet cotton cloth on the affected area for some time. Repeat after some time.
  • You can also apply some cucumber pieces or grated cucumber on the affected area.
  • Applying aloe vera can also help.
  • Give her a cool bath. However, do not rub your baby’s skin. Instead, just pat it dry.
  • Make her wear only cotton and loose-fitting clothes.
  • Keep your baby away from the sun as much as possible, at least until the time her skin is not properly healed.

Things You Should Avoid Doing With a Sunburned Baby

Certain things should be avoided in case you have a sunburned baby at hand. Here is a list of “not to do” things.

  • Avoid popping the blisters. Doing so could be painful and could cause a sore in the affected area.
  • Do not scratch or peel the skin when it starts to heal. Let the skin peel off naturally.
  • Avoid using any petroleum-based or alcohol-based products in the affected area.
  • Avoid all types of sprays and ointments on the skin, particularly on the affected part.
  • Consult a dermatologist in severe cases, as home remedies may further aggravate the condition in a few babies.
  • Avoid using hot water when bathing the sunburned baby. Hot water can further irritate the already sensitive and damaged skin. Instead, use lukewarm or cool water for bathing to provide relief.
  • Refrain from dressing your sunburned baby in tight or rough-textured clothing. Tight clothing can rub against sensitive skin and cause discomfort.

Natural Soothers for the Sunburned Skin of a Baby

There are many natural sunburn relief for babies some of which are listed below.

1. Tea

The tannins and antioxidants in freshly brewed green and black tea absorb the heat caused by sunburn.

How to apply it:

  • Let the brewed tea cool down to room temperature.
  • Once it cools down, take a cotton washcloth or a small ball of cotton and apply it to the affected areas. Then, rinse the affected area with cool water. You can also apply a tea bag on the affected area or pour some freshly brewed tea into cool bath water before giving your child a bath with it.

2. Oatmeal

Oats are rich in antioxidants and are said to have anti-inflammatory properties.

How to apply it:

  • Add finely ground oatmeal to bathwater and let your baby sit in it for some time.
  • Then, rinse her with cool water and pat dry.
  • You can also make a paste of finely ground oatmeal, honey, and milk, and apply it to the affected area. After some time, rinse it off with cool water.

3. Lavender and Coconut oil

Coconut oil, which has microbial properties, heals the sunburn and the lauric acid in it helps cell growth. Lavender oil, on the other hand, has a soothing effect on the skin.

How to apply it:

  • Using a cotton ball apply the mix to the affected area. You can also add it to your baby’s bathwater.

4. Honey

It can work like an antibiotic and speed up the healing process.

How to apply it:

  • Using a wet cotton ball, apply honey to the affected areas.
  • Honey can also be mixed with other household ingredients like oatmeal and applied to the sunburn.

5. Milk

The proteins in the milk soothe the burn and moisturise the skin.

Milk in a bowl

How to apply it:

  • Mix one cup of milk with 3 parts cool water.
  • Put a cotton cloth in it and then squeeze the cloth.
  • Then, apply the cold, wet towel on the affected area (you can also add ice but, for small children, it is best avoided).

6. Tomato

Tomatoes are great antioxidants and help in removing dead skin cells and fighting cell damage.

How to apply it:

  • Make a puree of the tomatoes.
  • Then using a clean towel, apply the tomato juice to the affected area.

7. Cornflour

It is an age-old remedy for all types of skin rash.

How to apply it:

  • Make a paste of cornflour using water.
  • Apply it on all the affected areas and rinse it off after some time.
  • In case of a sunburnt back, sprinkle some cornflour on the area when the skin is damp and apply it using a sponge or a powder puff.

8. Aloe Vera

The cooling effect of aloe vera pulp gives relief from the pain and also heals the burn.

How to apply it:

  • Squeeze out the pulp of the aloe vera plant.
  • Then, apply the pulp to the affected area.

9. Potato

Like aloe vera and cucumber, potatoes too have a cooling effect on the skin.

How to apply it:

  • Grate a potato and apply it to the sunburn.

10. Cucumber

Mom puts sunscreen on her baby

The antioxidant and analgesic component of cucumbers is a quick healer. So, you can use cucumber to treat sunburn.

How to apply it:

  • Slice up or grate a chilled cucumber.
  • Apply it to the affected area.

How to Prevent Sunburn in Infants?

Sunburn in infants should be avoided in every way possible. Some of the measures to prevent sunburn in newborns are –

  • There should be removable mesh window shields to avoid direct sunlight in the room.
  • Walks with your infants should be taken either early in the morning before the sun is high up or just before sunset or after sunset.
  • Your baby’s hands and legs should be covered with light cotton clothes.
  • A wide-brimmed hat can do wonders in protecting the face of your child from the sun.
  • In the case of babies above 6 months of age, you can apply sunburn cream for babies just 30 minutes before going out.
  • As much as possible make her play in a shaded area between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Make sure your child wears UV-protected sunglasses when out in the sun.

When to Consult a Doctor?

A newborn with sunburn can be agonising for parents. Therefore a cream to prevent sunburn in babies is the best way to avoid it. However, sunburn on the baby’s face is the most common of all, since the face is the portion of a baby’s body which is mostly exposed to the sun.

Look out for these symptoms in case your baby has a sunburn.

  • Blisters on the body.
  • Your baby has a high fever, headache, pain, dehydration, along with nausea and chills.
  • The blisters or sore caused by the sunburn have pus in them indicating an infection.

FAQs

1. Can an Infant’s Eyes Get Sunburned?

Yes, infants’ eyes can get sunburned. It’s crucial to protect your baby’s eyes from harmful UV rays by using wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses designed for infants. Avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight to prevent eye irritation and potential damage.

2. How Often Can I Apply Sunscreen on My Baby’s Skin?

For babies older than six months, you can apply sunscreen with at least SPF 30 about 15-30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply it every two hours or more frequently if your baby is in the water or sweating. However, for infants under six months, it’s best to keep them in the shade and dress them in protective clothing, as sunscreen is not typically recommended due to their sensitive skin.

3. Which Type of Sunscreen Is Safe for Babies?

Look for a sunscreen specifically labeled as “baby” or “child” and ensure it offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Choose a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Avoid sunscreens containing harsh chemicals or fragrances, and opt for mineral-based sunscreens with ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, as they are less likely to irritate a baby’s sensitive skin. Always perform a patch test before using a new sunscreen on your baby to check for any adverse reactions.

A baby having sunburn on the face or body is not life-threatening. However, the repercussions that a child has to face due to it can be painful and agonizing. Therefore, it is best avoided. Take the right precautions to ensure your child can safely play outdoors, minimising the risk of sunburn.

References/Resources:

1. Sunburn & Your Skin; Skin Cancer Foundation; https://www.skincancer.org/risk-factors/sunburn/

2. Should You Put Sunscreen on Infants? Not Usually; U.S. Food & Drug Administration; https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/should-you-put-sunscreen-infants-not-usually

3. Sunburn: Treatment & Prevention; American Academy of Pediatrics; https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/skin/Pages/Sunburn-Treatment-and-Prevention.aspx

4. Sun-Safe Babies; Skin Cancer Foundation; https://www.skincancer.org/blog/sun-safe-babies/

5. Watts. C, Drummond. M, et al.; Sunscreen Use and Melanoma Risk Among Young Australian Adults; JAMA Network; https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/article-abstract/2687549; September 2018

6. Sun Safety: Information for Parents About Sunburn & Sunscreen; American Academy of Pediatrics; https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-play/Pages/Sun-Safety.aspx

7. How to Treat Sunburn; American Academy of Dermatology Association; https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/injured-skin/burns/treat-sunburn

8. Sunscreen application does not prevent vitamin D production in the majority of people; British Association of Dermatologists; https://www.bad.org.uk/sunscreen-application-does-not-prevent-vitamin-d-production-in-the-majority-of-people/

Also Read:

Benefits of Sunlight for Babies
Natural Sunscreen for Infants
Taking Care of Newborn in Summer

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