Your health
By Sally Robinson and Keith Bly 

Sunburn is the skin’s reaction to ultraviolet radiation exposure. Ultraviolet rays can cause invisible damage to the skin, which can lead to premature aging of the skin, as well as skin cancer. 

Most of the damage the sun causes to our skin happens when we’re children. Even a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s chance of getting skin cancer. 

Unprotected skin can burn in as little as 15 minutes outdoors and tanned skin is damaged skin. Most sun damage usually occurs during daily activities, rather than just during trips to the pool or the beach. 

A sunscreen that has both UVA and UVB protection and an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher (higher if your child has fair skin) offers the best protection against sun damage. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following for infants younger than 6 months:

• Avoid sun exposure.

• Use protective lightweight long pants, sleeves and brimmed hats.

• Use a minimal amount of 15 SPF to areas such as the infant’s face and back of hands. 

For young children:

• Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside.

• Use sunscreen even on cloudy days.

• Use a SPF of 15 or greater with protection for both UVA and UVB rays. 

For older children:

• The best line of defense is covering up. Wear a hat with a 3-inch brim or bill facing forward.

• Use sunglasses that block 100 percent of UV rays.

• Wear cotton clothing with a tight weave.

• Stay in the shade and limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

• Use a sunscreen with a SPF of 15 or greater. Apply a thick coat of at least an ounce and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

• Remember to coat all exposed areas including the rims of the ears, lips, back of the neck and tops of the feet. 

If your child has sensitive skin, use a sunscreen with ingredients that physically block the sun’s radiation, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

If using a combination sunscreen and insect repellent, make sure that the sunscreen has a high SPF because Deet lowers the effectiveness of sunscreens. 

Some medications can make your child more sensitive to the sun. If your child is on medication, check with your doctor. 

If your child does get a sunburn:

• Bathe him in cold water or use cool compresses.

• Give a pain reliever if necessary.

• Use aloe vera gel or hydrocortisone cream.

• Keep your child out of the sun until the burn heals. 

Call your doctor if the sunburn is severe, forms blisters, or if your child has symptoms of heat stress, such as fever, chills, nausea, vomiting or feeling faint. 

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children’s Hospital and Keith Bly is an assistant professor of pediatrics in the UTMB Children’s Emergency Room. This column is not intended to replace the advice of a physician.