First off: Babies should not be exposed to the sun — in fact, says dermatologist Dr Neoh Ching Yin, those under age 6 months “should avoid spending time directly under the sun and seek shade whenever possible”.
This means, she says, that you should have UV protective films on your car windows and you should keep baby in the shade at all times — there are no standard guidelines on this, but tossing a muslin cloth over the stroller may not help much. If your baby is sunburned, bring them to the doctor immediately — babies cannot regulate their body temperature like adults.
She adds that children who are fairer, with lighter-coloured skin are more prone to sunburn than darker skinned children, but ultimately all can be sunburned. Not to mention this ultimately adds to their risk of eventual skin cancer.
What to look out for:
3 to 6 hours after sun exposure: The skin is painful, red and hot to touch. Your child is also likely to be dehydrated, because it was hot, plus if they were playing in the sun, they probably didn’t stop to top up their water…
24 to 48 hours post exposure: The skin remains red although it may be less tender and painful than before. Some blisters may form over the red skin.
3 to 7 days post exposure: The affected skin begins to peel.
Of course, your best bet is to avoid sunburn at all: Apply sunblock with SPF of at least 30 generously all over your child (we know, we know, not EASY) — make sure your block screens against both UVA and UVB radiation. This should be done 30 mins before letting your kid run out into the sun, says Dr Neoh.
“For older toddlers and children, physical sunblock containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are more appropriate as they are less likely to cause skin irritation,” she advises.
Also, it helps if you can remind your child to keep drinking water and come into the shade when they feel hot.
So how do you treat your hot, hurting child? Read on…
To treat mild sunburn, says Dr Neoh, you can…
1) Cool the child's burnt skin by going back into the shade/aircon as soon as possible. You may try to wipe them with tepid — not cold! — water.
2) Moisturise and soothe the skin with moisturisers or soothing gels containing aloe vera. You could try applying aloe vera from the cut plant itself. Some products you may want to look out for: Naturals by Watsons Aloe Vera Collection Soothing Gel, Arubi Aloe Vera Gel, Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera Gel, Umena Aloe Vera Gel, Banana Boat Aloe After Sun Gel and Lip Hop Soothing Aloe Vera Gel are available from Watsons and Guardian pharmacies. Avoid products that contain harmful chemicals, preservatives or fragrance.
3) Use a cool compress.
4) If your child is in pain, give them simple painkillers like paracetamol to ease it.
5) Bring them to a doctor, who may prescribe a mild topical steroid such as hydrocortisone 1% cream.
6) Give your child plenty of water or milk (if the child is very young). Sunburns cause blood vessels to dilate so the skin loses water quickly (the body’s mechanism to try to cool down) — which can lead to dehydration and fatigue, or even heat stroke if not treated properly.
7) Do not pop the blisters.
Other things you can do to make your child feel comfortable while recovering from sunburn:
• Make sure their clothes are loose so they won’t irritate burned skin.
• If they are very uncomfortable when resting in bed or at night, you can try sprinkling the bedsheets with baby powder.
• Keep your child out of the sun until the burn has gone. Once the skin is damaged, getting a second burn is even easier.
Dermatologist Dr Neoh Ching Yin is with Specialist Skin Clinic.