Sunburn Prevention and Treatment


Sunburn occurs when the skin is overexposed to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun.


Infants and young fair-skinned children are at the greatest risk for getting sunburn because their skin is thinner and more sensitive to the sun.

Symptoms You are Likely to Notice

Unfortunately the symptoms of sunburn may not show up until several hours after being overexposed to the sun's rays. If the sunburn is minor, the skin turns pink or red. A more severe sunburn causes the skin to blister. There may be pain and a burning sensation in the affected areas. This may be followed by itching as the sunburned skin begins peeling off, usually in about a week. If a child seems overly sensitive to light, it may mean that he or she experienced sunburn on the cornea of the eye.

Treatment Options

To reduce pain, ibuprofen seems to be effective. A cool bath with a small amount of baking soda may also help with pain, as showers can cause a stinging sensation. Cortisone cream applied several times a day (especially on the first day) may reduce swelling.


Until recently, physicians believed that sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher would prevent not only sunburn but also skin cancer. The evidence today suggests that while a sunscreen with a rating of at least SPF 15 will prevent sunburn, it may not prevent the damage that can lead to skin cancer. Zinc oxide ointment, which blocks the sun's rays completely, will protect the skin from sunburn and also from cancer. In the past the only version of zinc oxide was the white paste that lifeguards and very sensitive people have used on the nose or lips for extra protection.

Today some sunscreens include zinc oxide as an ingredient. These provide more protection than sunscreens without zinc oxide. Wearing loose clothing does not help much, but a broad-brimmed hat can help protect facial skin. When the sun is most intense, it is a good idea to stay in the shade as much as possible.

Stages and Progress

Repeated exposure to the sun over time can cause the skin to wrinkle and sag prematurely. What is more serious is that every time a person gets a blistering sunburn, it doubles the risk of developing a serious type of skin cancer called malignant melanoma or a less serious form of skin cancer . Although skin cancer is more likely to occur in adults, it is caused by sunburns that occur during childhood.