How to treat your child’s sunburn

June 3, 2024, 2:00 p.m.

It happens to the best of us. Your child is out playing on a summer day, and the last thing you’re thinking about is reapplying sunscreen. Suddenly, their skin looks quite red.

You can protect your kid’s skin this summer by reapplying sunscreen every 40 minutes if swimming or 80 minutes if sweating. Use around half a shot glass’ worth — about an ounce — of product on your child each time to protect them from ultraviolet radiation.

But in cases where you’re suddenly facing a sunburn, there are things you can do to help soothe your child. Laird Vermont, MD, a Washington University pediatrician at Monarch Pediatrics, says that if your child’s sunburn is just red, you’re generally OK, “as long as the child’s not acting sick. Just stay out of the sun because their body needs a couple of days to heal.” Below, he shares how to treat a sunburn, when to be concerned and more.

To treat a sunburn at home:

  • Stay out of direct sunlight
  • Apply a cool compress to the affected area
  • Sit in a cool bath to provide relief
  • Offer fluids to stay hydrated
  • If your child is older than 6 months and in pain, ibuprofen can help them feel more comfortable

If your child’s sunburn is so severe that it is blistering, keep the blisters covered, wash them with soap and water once a day and monitor them for signs of infection. If your child has a large area of their body — around 10% of the total skin surface area — that is blistering, call their pediatrician.

When should you be concerned about your child’s sun exposure? Look for these symptoms:

  • A fever of 101°F or higher
  • Persistent muscle cramps
  • Skin that looks uncomfortably dry and feels hot to the touch
  • Inability to sweat
  • Dizziness, fainting, coordination problems
  • Confusion
  • Weakness
  • Rapid breathing
  • Headache

In these cases, get your child out of the heat and into a cool place, hydrate and seek immediate medical attention. These are signs of heatstroke and heat exhaustion. St. Louis Children’s Hospital has six pediatric emergency department locations across the St. Louis and southern Illinois region. These include St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Children’s Hospital at Memorial Hospital Belleville, Children’s Hospital at Memorial Hospital Shiloh, Children’s Hospital at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, Children’s Hospital at Northwest HealthCare and Children’s Hospital at Progress West Hospital.

Need help finding a pediatrician? We are here to assist. Learn more about what factors to consider when choosing a provider.

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Laird Vermont, MDLaird Vermont, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician who has had the privilege of caring for children and adolescents for more than 25 years. He completed medical school at St. Louis University and residency at Indiana University in Indianapolis. A St. Louis native, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two kids in the metro area, as well as following the local sports teams.