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FAQ: what can you do for a sunburn?

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  August 12, 2013 07:10 AM

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sunburn.jpgTheoretically, our kids shouldn't get sunburns--because theoretically, we put plenty of sunscreen on every sun-exposed inch of them every time they are going out into the sun, and we remember to reapply it at least every couple of hours. We never forget, miss a spot, or get caught off guard by the early spring sun, a playdate that moves outdoors or by how quickly some sunscreens wash off in the water. 

Yup. Well, that may be true of the very perfectest parents...but for the rest of us (myself included), sunburn has happened or will happen. At least once. If it does, here are some tips for making your child feel better:

Use cool water. Bathing with some cool water (not really cold, just cool) or using cool wet washcloths or towels is a great way to make your child feel better fast.

Oatmeal baths. You can buy oatmeal powder at any drug store, and it's wonderful for rashes of all kinds, including sunburns.

Aloe vera. I love aloe vera. Look for gel or lotion--you want the skin to be able to "breathe", so stay away from ointments or anything that has petroleum jelly in it. Keeping it cool in the fridge may make it feel even better on the skin.

Moisturize! Using lotions regularly will help. Sometimes a low-dose hydrocortisone cream can help--talk to your doctor.

Acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Either one can be very helpful for that achey feeling, and the pain, that sunburn brings.

Give plenty of fluids. The skin loses fluids through a burn, so give your child extra (water is best), especially at the beginning.

If there are any blisters, leave them alone. Picking at them is not only painful, it can increase the risk of infection.

Most sunburns can be managed at home. But you should call the doctor if:
  • Your child has a bad sunburn and is less than 6 months old
  • Your child has a bad sunburn that is over a lot of the body, or if there is a large area of blistering.
  • Your child has a fever, chills, or is acting unwell
  • The skin starts to look more red, or has any yellow drainage.
  • There is anything at all about the sunburn that worries you (better safe than sorry)
The American Academy of Dermatology has some great sunscreen FAQ's, and you can check out my blog about them too. The "rash guard" bathing shirts that offer UV protection are a great idea too, as are hats and lightweight cover-ups--and it's always a good idea to limit sun exposure during those peak midday hours.


Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post. 
This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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