Our children are too young to understand the importance of protecting their skin from sunlight, so we must take every precaution for them so they can play outside safely. Sometimes, even though we tried our best, they play so long outside that they may develop sunburn. We must be prepared to treat them adequately and be able to recognize the symptoms and complications.
What is sunburn?
According to Health Canada, « Sunburn (also known as erythema) is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation. While the symptoms are usually temporary (such as red skin that is painful to the touch), skin damage is often permanent and can develop into serious long-term health effects, including skin cancer. Mild sunburn results in skin irritation and redness and can be safely treated at home. Severe sunburn requires medical attention. »
Recognizing the symptoms
To help heal sunburn quickly and to be able to assess its severity, you have to understand the symptoms. Here is a list of the observable symptoms:
- Redness or skin sensitivity to touch
- Blisters appearing within a few days
- Possibility of fever, chills, nausea or rash
- Peeling skin on burned areas
When to consult?
If you notice your child is developing blisters that are extremely painful, that his face has oedema or that his skin is discoloured and cold, you should consult a doctor so he can assess the severity of the situation. Here are other signs that indicate it’s time for you to seek the advice of a healthcare professional:
- Nausea, fever or chills
- Rapid pulse or breathing
- Headache, confusion, weakness or dizziness
- Signs of dehydration such as thirst, dry eyes and mouth or no urine output
- Signs of skin infection like increasing redness, pain, swelling or pus
- Eyes are painful or sensitive to light
Long-term adverse effects
Repeated exposure to the sun without protection can eventually lead to skin cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society tells us that most skin cancers develop on areas that are most often exposed to the sun such as the head, face, neck, hands and arms.
You should first remove your child from sun exposure and make sure they stay well hydrated in the days following the sunburn to avoid dehydration. If the sunburn is important, you can also have them relax in a bath of lukewarm water or apply cool compresses to lower their body temperature. Avoid applying creams or lotions that can trap body heat on the injuries such as local anaesthetics containing benzocaine or lidocaine. If your child is complaining of pain, you can administer mild analgesics such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
Aloe Vera is known to help relieve the pain of sunburn and helps reduce healing time. You can also brush with olive oil which is rich in antioxidants and will contribute to reduce damage caused by ultraviolet sunrays. Naturopath Colette Dumais also recommends on her website using compresses of raw carrot pulp to treat the skin for its healing and disinfecting powers. Use only if affected area is not too important.
Using cornstarch to relieve the pain associated with sunburnMix 1 cup of cornstarch in a hot water bath and let your child rest 20 to 30 minutes. For a more concentrated effect, you can also apply a paste of equal amounts of cornstarch and baking soda on the body or add a tablespoon of each in 2 litres of water, soak gauze bandages and apply to the affected areas 20 to 30 minutes.
The best remedy: Prevention
Why cure when you can prevent? Passeport Santé advises us to always use sunscreen for sun protection, even when it is cloudy outside. You should get sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15. For the sensitive skin of children, it is even recommended to use a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, which you can apply 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure.
Fun discovery: The Savon Populaire soap company provides you with everything you need to make yourself a homemade sunscreen stick made with natural products that will leave your skin silky and fragrant and which offers an SPF protection of approximately 30+.
You can also cover the parts of your body most likely to burn by wearing a hat, sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV rays and loose clothing, preferably in light colors.
The Canadian Cancer Society also invites you to seek shade to reduce sun exposure, especially during the period when the rays are at their highest intensity, from 11AM to 4PM.