How To Treat Sunburn In Kids, According To Experts

by Jacqueline Burt Cote

No matter how diligent you are, making sure every square inch of your kid is slathered in sunblock all summer long, at some point or another the inevitable will happen and your seemingly well-protected child will get a sunburn. Whether it's because all that SPF washed off in the pool (you could have sworn you re-applied) or you missed a couple of spots (because somebody wouldn't stand still for two minutes), once your kid gets burned there's no going back. So how do you treat sunburn in kids? Turns out, there are experts who can help.

That all depends on the severity of the burn, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. By about six to 12 hours after exposure, you should be able to tell how badly your kid was burned. If your child has "blisters, fever, chills, headache, or a general feeling of illness," call your pediatrician right away. Severe sunburns can lead to heatstroke and need to be treated just like any other bad burn, sometimes with antibiotics (if blisters become infected) or even hospitalization.

Assuming, however, that your child's burn is of the more mild (but still painful) variety, you can probably treat their symptoms at home. Here are some ways to keep your little one cool and comfortable until their skin calms down.


Oatmeal Bath & Aloe Lotion

A good old-fashioned oatmeal bath is a treatment favored by renowned pediatrician Dr. William Sears, M.D., according to Parenting. "Add a cup of oatmeal to your child's bath, and let her soak for as long as she wants," Dr. Sears says, adding that "a lukewarm bath is best for the skin, but if the sunburn is sore, cooler water may be more comfortable."

When your child gets out of the tub, gently blot their skin with a towel (gently!) but leave it slightly damp, then liberally (and gently!) apply a moisturizer with aloe vera (notorious for its burn-healing powers).

"Beyond soothing your child, the moisturizer will trap the water in the top layers of the skin and may cut down on itching and dryness," Dr. Sears says.



Honey has been used as a burn salve since Ancient Egyptian times. "Studies suggest it may work better than some antibiotic creams at speeding up healing, reducing infection, and minimizing pain," Kathi Kemper, M.D., author of The Holistic Pediatrician, tells Parents.

his treatment isn't an appropriate option for babies under the age of 12 months, though, as accidental ingestion can put them at risk for developing infant botulism.


Extra Fluids

Sunburn can often lead to dehydration in kids, according to The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, so it's important to give your child extra fluids for several days at least.


Cool, Damp Towels On The Skin

Sunburned skin doesn't just hurt, but can feel unbearably hot. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends putting a cold, damp towel on the affected areas "for 10 or 15 minutes a few times every day," which will help to absorb some of that heat.


Topical Steroid Creams

If the sunburned skin is swollen (which it oftentimes can be), topical steroids such as 1 percent hydrocortisone cream can help with pain and inflammation, according to WebMD.

(Don't use the cream on children younger than age the age of 2, unless your pediatrician gives you the green light first.)


Witch Hazel

Witch hazel on a washcloth or cotton gauze can help to reduce pain and itching when applied to the skin three or four times a day for 20 minutes, according to Parents.



Over-the-counter ibuprofen can reduce the redness and swelling of a sunburn, according to Seattle Children's Hospital. But you'll need to administer the medication sooner than you think, because symptoms don't always show up right away and sometimes won't peak for 24 to 48 hours.

"If you think your child got too much sun, start ibuprofen then," the hospital website advises. "Give it three times per day for two days. Don't wait for redness."

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