After a long winter, everyone wants to bask in the glory of the summer sun. Liberated from our heavy snow gear, it’s easy to throw on a pair of shorts and a tee shirt to rush outside. There may be times we forget sun safety and by the afternoon we’ve got sad kids with bright red sunburns. This article is a quick reminder of how to assess sunburn risk and the simple things you can do to practice sun safety for kids.

Sunburn Basics

How long does it take to get a sunburn?

Did you know that depending on the UV index, it could take only 10 minutes or less to develop a sunburn?

Everyone has different skin and genetics, so how fast you get a sunburn relies on several factors.

  • Time spent in the sun
  • The sun’s intensity
  • Skin type
  • Precautions taken

Understanding the sun’s intensity

The UV index is a method of describing how strong the sun’s UV rays are. This can give you a better idea of when you may be at risk of getting sunburn. Basically, the higher the UV index, the more at risk you are.

The scale is numerically based from 1-10. When UV rays are forecasted to be 3 or above, it’s time to take some sun precautions!

How can you check the UV index for your area?

The UV index is included in most weather forecasts. In the summer, we should be checking the UV forecast just like we watch for snow in the winter.

Altitude Considerations

UV rays are elevated in areas with higher altitudes. Be aware of this if you are headed out on a summer hike in the mountains.

The Equator Factor

UV rays are also stronger near the equator because the sun’s rays are closer to the earth in those locations.

When are UV rays the strongest?

Peak hours for UV rays are from 10am to 4pm.

Sneaky Sun

  • Don’t let the cloud cover fool you! Even when it’s cloudy outside you can still get a sunburn.
  • The sun can be reflected off of multiple surfaces such as water, snow, sand, or even grass. Don’t let it catch you unprotected!

Your Skin Type: (Using the Fitzpatrick Scale)

The Fitzpatrick scale was created in 1975. It is a way to classify sunburn risk based on skin type. The scale is currently used by health professionals in determining how different people react to the sun.

Sunburn Prevention For Kids

  1. Wear protective clothing: Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible, including long-sleeved shirts, pants, hats, and sunglasses.
  2. Use sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all exposed skin, and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
  3. Seek shade: Stay in the shade, especially during peak sun hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  4. Drink water: Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, especially on hot and sunny days.
  5. Be extra cautious near water, sand, and snow: These surfaces reflect sunlight and increase your risk of sunburn.
  6. Wear a wide-brimmed hat: A wide-brimmed hat can provide shade for your face, neck, and shoulders.
  7. Wear sunscreen even on cloudy days: UV rays can still penetrate clouds and cause sunburn, so it’s important to wear sunscreen even on cloudy days.
  8. Wear Sunglasses-Sunglasses protect the eyes and the areas around the eyes from the bright sunlight.

How to get kids to cooperate with sun safety

It can be tricky to get some kids to opt into the sun safety plan. Toddlers try to squirm away when applying sunscreen, and older kids may not want to wear protective clothing in the summer. What is a parent to do? Here are some ideas to help.

Let your child help pick out some of the gear

Have your child choose which hat and sunglasses they prefer to wear, it will make your life easier!

Keep your gear in an easy-to-access place

Nobody wants to go on a hunt for sunscreen right before leaving for the park. Store you’re hats and sunglasses where they are fast to locate and easy put on.

Make it a habit

Set the expectation that putting on sunscreen is like putting on a rain jacket or using an umbrella in stormy weather.

For toddlers, make it a game

Pretend you are painting their face. Rub sunscreen in gently.

Try out different sunscreens

If your child is resistant to your current sunscreen, figure out why. Is it the smell? The gooeyness or the stickiness? Find a brand that your child doesn’t mind as much.

Sometimes, even when we think we’ve covered every inch of skin in sunscreen, burns happen. Here’s what to look for.

Signs and symptoms of sunburns

Mild sunburn:

  • Skin redness
  • Pain or tenderness in the affected area
  • Warmth in the affected area
  • Swelling
  • Itching or a prickly feeling
  • Peeling skin, which may appear a few days after exposure
  • Mild headache
  • Fever or chills in severe cases

Moderate Sunburns:

  • Skin redness that covers a larger area than with mild sunburn
  • Pain or tenderness that may be more intense than with mild sunburn
  • Swelling
  • Blisters that may form on the affected area
  • Headache
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea or vomiting

Severe Sunburns:

  • Skin redness that covers a large area of the body
  • Intense pain and discomfort
  • Skin blistering that covers a large area of the body
  • Swelling and fluid buildup
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Severe headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion or disorientation

How to comfort kids with a mild sunburn

  1. Cool their skin: Help your child take a cool shower or bath. You can also apply a cool compress to the affected area. Avoid using ice, as it can further damage the skin.
  2. Moisturize: Apply a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer to your child’s skin to help it stay hydrated and soothe discomfort.
  3. Encourage fluids: Have your child drink plenty of water and other fluids to help prevent dehydration.
  4. Avoid further sun exposure: Keep your child out of the sun until their skin has healed.
  5. Provide over-the-counter pain relievers: You may want to try over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for discomfort.
  6. Use aloe vera: Apply aloe vera gel to their skin to help reduce redness and inflammation.
  7. Wear loose clothing: Loose clothing is going to feel a lot more comfortable for a child that has a sunburn.

What to do when your child has a severe sunburn

Consult a medical professional if:

  • The sunburn is severe with blisters
  • Your child develops a high fever, headache, severe pain, nausea, confusion or other signs of dehydration
  • The skin looks like it has an infection: Swelling, red streaks, and pus are noticed
  • The sunburn isn’t improving after home treatments

Final thoughts

Sunburns are totally preventable if you take the right precautions. Check the UV forecast in your area to determine the level of risk for the day and prepare accordingly. Monitor your child for signs of sunburn and provide comfort measures when necessary. Have fun in the sun without feeling the burn!

Looking for more information about how to keep your kids safe? Check out some of my other articles:

Hot cars and kids

Trampoline Safety

Kids Firework Safety

  • CDC. (2019). Sun Safety. Cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/sun-safety.htm
  • Center for Devices and Radiological Health. (2020, August 19). Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/tanning/ultraviolet-uv-radiation
  • Commissioner, O. of the. (2019). Tips to Stay Safe in the Sun: From Sunscreen to Sunglasses. FDA. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/tips-stay-safe-sun-sunscreen-sunglasses
  • D’Orazio, J., Jarrett, S., Amaro-Ortiz, A., & Scott, T. (2013). UV Radiation and the Skin. International Journal of Molecular Sciences14(6), 12222–12248. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms140612222
  • Sunburn: Skin Types. (n.d.). Wa.kaiserpermanente.org. Retrieved April 25, 2023, from https://wa.kaiserpermanente.org/kbase/topic.jhtml?docId=sid44562
  • Sunburn treatment: Do I need medical attention? (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sunburn/expert-answers/sunburn-treatment/faq-20057815

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