When the sun shines in Oregon, kids and adults are eager to enjoy it. Providers at Eugene Pediatric Associates have already seen an uptick in calls this month from parents asking how best to treat sunburns.
“Most of us have been waiting and waiting for the sunshine,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “And often we forget to take the necessary precautions, and we end up getting burned.”
Protecting your family’s skin
The sun gives off two types of UV radiation that damages cells in our bodies. UVA rays play a big role in prematurely aging our skin, while UVB rays lead to burns. The amount of UVA radiation remains consistent throughout the year, but UVB varies depending on the season and is most intense during summer.
When choosing a sunscreen, look for the words “broad spectrum” on the label and a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Broad spectrum protects against both UVA and UVB rays, while SPF 30 or higher means it will repel more than 97 percent of the rays that burn.
“For young kids, I usually recommend sunscreens that have titanium dioxide or zinc oxide in them,” says dermatologist Dr. Diane Baird. “Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide sit on top of the skin, so it’s like wearing clothing; it blocks the sun from the skin. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, penetrate into the skin and react with the sunlight. Those types of sunscreens can get into the bloodstream.”
Dr. Baird also says sunscreens with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, known as mineral sunscreens, are a better choice for children because they tend to be less irritating to the skin.
Sunscreen should be applied 15-20 minutes before going outdoors and reapplied every two hours while outside or after swimming or sweating. In addition:
- Keep babies under 6 months of age out of direct sunlight.
- Wear sun-protective clothing, including a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the eyes.
- Avoid the sun’s peak hours, when possible.
“It’s really important to protect yourself particularly between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is the most intense,” says Dr. Baird.
If a burn does occur, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends these tips to help soothe stinging skin:
- Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. Immediately after a bath or shower, gently pat dry but leave some water on the skin. Then, apply a moisturizer to help trap the water. This can help ease dryness.
- Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to help soothe sunburned skin. If a particular area feels especially uncomfortable, you may want to apply a hydrocortisone cream that can be purchased without a prescription. Do not treat sunburn with “-caine” products (such as benzocaine). These products may irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
- Drink extra water. A sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water when you are sunburned helps prevent dehydration.
“You can also give ibuprofen or Tylenol to kids 6 months and up,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “If you have a young child under 6 months of age that has a significant sunburn, that is worth a call to your doctor’s office, as is a blistering burn to a child of any age.”
Although it may seem like a temporary condition, sunburn can cause long-lasting damage to the skin, and that damage increases the risk for developing skin cancer later in life. Since most sun damage occurs in childhood, it’s especially important for families to be vigilant and make sun protection a priority, especially during summer.