How to treat a sunburn

We all know the importance of sun protection, but what should you do if your child does get a burn?


Like most parents of fair children, Jennifer Mahoney-Scriver is religious about sunscreen use. But sunburns can still happen, especially when you’re no longer with your kids every moment of the day. Her son Braiden was 11 when he came home scarlet red from an afternoon-swim-turned-sleepover.

Cue the classic sunburn scenario: It was Braiden’s first long day at a pool (where sun reflection is intense) early in the summer when the danger of overexposure hasn’t quite sunk in. The host parents had used sunscreen but apparently not enough. “He was burnt everywhere—face, arms and back,” she says. “He was really sore, and felt unwell, too. He blistered a bit in places and had to miss school that Monday.”

Jill Keddy-Grant, a Winnipeg dermatologist, explains that the full intensity of sunburn doesn’t appear right away, so it’s important to get your child out of the sun at the first sign of pink. Then follow these steps:

* Give ibuprofen immediately, and every six hours, for at least 24 hours. “It helps with pain and reduces the inflammatory response, which may lessen the severity of the burn,” she says.

* Cool the skin with compresses or even a cool bath (but not enough to cause shivering) to help take the heat out of the skin. Marianne Beacon, a registered herbalist and owner of Elderberry Herbals in Peterborough, Ont., suggests you add apple cider vinegar (at least two tablespoons per cup of water) to help cool and protect. Adding oatmeal is another option.

* Prevent dehydration by having the child drink lots of water (what you drink evaporates more quickly through burned skin).


* Apply a moisturizer without too many additives or any fragrance. Aloe vera can be soothing, and products containing a topical anaesthetic can ease the pain and itch. Choose one that contains pramoxine; Keddy-Grant explains that products with lidocaine or benzocaine (which should be avoided altogether) are more likely to cause allergic skin rashes or irritations. Beacon adds that a cream with calendula or comfrey will moisturize and help the skin heal.

If there’s an upside to sunburn, it’s in its power to drive home the importance of sun protection. Mahoney-Scriver’s three boys were always trying to dodge the sunscreen. “After they saw the consequences, they co-operated much better for the rest of the summer!”

Expert tip: If a sunburn is severe, you may need to seek medical attention. Keddy-Grant says to see a doctor if there’s widespread blistering, intense pain, or if your child shows signs of possible heatstroke (nausea, vomiting, headache, dizziness, fainting or confusion).

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