Oops! My Kid Got A Sunburn! Now What?

Oops! My Kid Got A Sunburn! Now What? | Growing Up Herbal | Sunburns sometimes happen. Here's how to manage sunburned skin naturally to promote a quick and healthy recovery.

At this point in our Sun Health series, we’ve discussed the importance of getting enough Vitamin D, understanding SPF in sunscreens, and what safe sun exposure looks like.

But sometimes, despite your best efforts, you or your child may end up with a sunburn. What do you do then?

Today I want to talk about how a sunburn affects the skin and what you can do to help your child’s skin recover and heal from this unfortunate event depending on how severe their sunburned skin is.

Burned Skin

In the graphic below, you can see the different degrees of burns. When most people think about burned skin, they think of spilling boiling water or oil on themselves or children tripping and falling into fires. Most people don’t realize that the sun can burn the skin in a similar way.

Oops! My Kid Got A Sunburn! Now What? | Growing Up Herbal | Sunburns sometimes happen. Here's how to manage sunburned skin naturally to promote a quick and healthy recovery.
Photo Credit: SurvivalObjective.com

The problem with any kind of burn is that it opens the body up to infection. Yes, even a simple sunburn.

The skin is your bodies largest organ, and it acts as a protective barrier allowing certain things in and out of the skin. Intact, healthy skin is designed to keep bacteria, yeast, and other harmful microbes out of the body, but when it becomes damaged – as with a sunburn – it becomes less able to do its job. It’s been compromised.

So now, I’m going to break sunburns down into the different “levels” of burns and give you some information that you can use to treat these types of sunburns if your child (or a friend) ever gets one.

Let me just say here that when it comes to sunburns, you’re typically only going to have to deal with first or second-degree burns… not third degree. I can’t imagine anyone getting a third-degree sunburn unless they were trapped in direct sunlight for a long period of time (as in stuck in the desert) or if they had some sort of neurological problem where they didn’t have sensation on their skin.

First-Degree Sunburn

A first-degree burn is shown in the first illustration above. It almost always appears as reddened skin that either hurts or itches, and it only affects the top layer of skin called the epidermal layer. The good news is that the skin cells in the epidermal layer are constantly regenerating, and this kind of sunburn will most times go away in 3-5 days.

Although we tend to recover from first-degree burns rather quickly, this doesn’t mean in any way that they are not a big deal. They are a big deal. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that two of the most common non-melanoma skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), are directly linked to repeated sunburns, and that the majority of these types of skin cancers are located in sun-exposed areas like face, nose, ears, hands, and forearms. Wanna stay clear from skin cancer? Your best bet is to prevent burns.

Okay, so now that you know how a first-degree burn affects the skin, let’s talk about what to do if your kiddo gets one.

#1 – Cool the Burning

Sunburns hurt, and your child is going to be uncomfortable. If you’ve ever been sunburned, you know how they’re feeling. Help them be more comfortable by cooling their skin down.

Cool baths can help, but so can cool aloe vera gel. Not only does aloe help to cool the skin and ease the pain, it helps to stimulate the regeneration of those burned, dead skin cells as well as soothing those frazzled nerves. Just pour a bit of your gel into a bowl, grab a cotton ball and start dabbing it on the burn. If the burn is over a large area, you can pour a little gel in your palm, rub your hands together, and gently spread it on the sunburned to cover more area quickly.

Two essential oils that are famous for their use with burns are Lavender and Peppermint. Lavender will not only help to calm your child down and help them rest, but its know for its anti-bacterial properties as well. Peppermint is a cooling oil. Its main chemical component is menthol which brings that nice cool feeling to whatever it touches.

If you want to combine the best of all of the above, combine 1-2 drops of your chosen oil to 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of sweet almond oil and 1 tablespoon of aloe gel. Mix well and apply several times a day to your little one’s burn. Just be cautious not to overdo the peppermint or to use it on children under 6-years-old as it’s not safe for them!

#2 – Remove Irritations

Sunburned skin is sensitive, and it can tear easily. Remove any clothing that’s rubbing against the skin and could possibly damage it further. Wearing loose-fitting cotton shirts will be much more comfortable and will allow the skin to breathe.

#3 – Stimulate Skin Cell Regeneration

Comfrey is a long-standing herb that has been widely used for its abilities to stimulate cell growth. Herbalist Kimberly Gallagher says, “Comfrey is a cooling herb, and we’ve had great success using comfrey poultices for healing burns. It draws out the heat, and then that allantoin goes to work, regenerating damaged cells.” How great is that? The best part is that it’s easy to use.

There are a couple different ways you can use comfrey to help your burn.

The best way is to take the fresh comfrey leaves and chop them in a food processor with a bit of boiling water to make a poultice. You can then rub the comfrey on the burn, letting it set 15-20 minutes before gently rinsing it off. Do this 2-3 times a day.

A quicker, more convenient way to use comfrey, and one your kids may go for more, is to make comfrey tea by placing 1 TBSP. of dried comfrey leaf in a mug and pouring boiling water over it. Cover it, and let it steep for 10 minutes. Put the tea in the refrigerator to cool and then you can use it as you would the aloe gel.

Second-Degree Sunburn

A second-degree sunburn (middle illustration) is going to vary from a first-degree burn in that it is a much deeper shade of red, there may be blisters on the surface of the skin, and the skin may have a mottled appearance that varies between purple, red, and white. This kind of burn has gone past the top layer of skin and down into the second layer of skin called the dermal layer.

Second-degree burns are not considered serious burns and typically don’t require a doctor’s attention. They look bad, they are painful, and they do take longer to heal… up to two weeks, in fact, depending on how deep the burn got. Like a first-degree sunburn, second-degree burns are known to increase the risk for skin cancer as well. Melanoma is a skin cancer that is believed to be caused by brief, intense exposure sun exposure – a blistering sunburn – rather than years of tanning. Melanoma can be deadly and it easily spreads to other areas of the body. Protect yourself and your children from burning.

Alright, now if for some reason your child does get a bad sunburn… here’s what you can do to help them recover as best as possible.

#1 – Follow Tips For First-Degree Sunburns

Same goes here as goes for first-degree burns. Cool the burned area with cool water. Don’t use freezing things like ice because this can damage the fragile skin. Cool water is best, and it can take anywhere from 15-30 minutes to help the burning pain to reside. Another thing to consider, a common folk remedy for burns is putting butter on them, but there’s the problem with that is this. Butter can hold the heat inside the burn. You want to sufficiently cool the skin, not trap heat in.

Essential oils are good options for these burns as well. Some would say to not use them on broken skin, but I’ve found no evidence of that being a problem or concern. In fact, it can be very beneficial.

#2 – Prevent Infection

With a second-degree burn, chances are you’re going to have blisters you’re dealing with, and when it comes to kids… they want to pop blisters. As adults, we know that blisters serve a purpose. They allow the damaged skin to stay moist and to regenerate while being protected from outside bacteria. But, a child doesn’t know this. All they know is that there’s something on their skin and they want it off. Popping blisters and exposing the flesh underneath opens the skin up to infection quickly. Below are some steps you can take to reduce chances of infection if your child does have open blisters on his burn.

  1. wash burned area with mild soap and water
  2. pat skin dry with clean cloth or gauze
  3. apply antibacterial, skin stimulating substance to the open sores such as herbal burn creamantibacterial salve, honey, aloe gel, comfrey poultice
  4. cover raw area with loose fitting bandages

Do this twice daily for the first 2-3 days then you can let up to once a day until new skin is growing.

#3 – Protect  Skin

After a second-degree burn has healed, it needs to be protected from the sun for a short while. Fresh skin can easily be sunburned again. Give it some time to toughen up to the environment. Keep it clean. Keep it out of prolonged, direct sunlight. Keep it moisturized with herbal oils like comfrey and calendula oils. Organic jojoba oil is very similar to the oil our bodies produce. Infusing it with comfrey would make a great follow up oil to put on the skin after the bulk of the blisters have healed.

Prevention Is ALWAYS Best

Hopefully, you’ll never have to jump online and browse my site looking for this post (or find where you pinned it on Pinterest) because you’re going to do your best keeping your little ones safe in the sun. Prevention is always the first step, and like I said in my last post on sun safety… let your kids build up a protective tan, keep them covered, and use a natural sunscreen when you’re going to be out and about for long periods of time in order to keep them from getting sunburned.

Best of luck!

Has your child ever been sunburned? How have you treated sunburns in the past? Share your best tips and advice with me in the comments below!

REFERENCES:

http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sunburn/facts-about-sunburn-and-skin-cancer
http://www.susunweed.com/herbal_ezine/November06/grandmother.htm

24 thoughts on “Oops! My Kid Got A Sunburn! Now What?”

  1. Awesome post! As a former medical esthetician I just have one recommendation. When keeping a burn clean we would have a patient clean with a mixture of one part vinegar 3 parts water 2-4 times a day. One can also apply a silver based cream or spray the area with ionic sliver
    I also have had great experience with olive leaf and plantain infused balms. I will be posting this on my business FB page. Thank you!

    1. Ohhh, vinegar and water… sounds great. I’ve heard of using silver ointments. Do you know if this works for using Colloidal Silver products too?

        1. Oh interesting! I have some friends who use it often, but I know that some people won’t use it due to the possible side effects (blue skin). It’s something I’ve not really looked into, but I didn’t know there were two kinds. Thanks for sharing!!

  2. How about sunburn itching? It’s only happened to me twice (and my mom once when she was in her 20s), but it’s characterized by a completely unquenchable need to scratch, and no matter how much you scratch it, it’s not solved or helped at all. It still itches! I’d been told that peppermint oil would help, but then I was just oily and minty!

    1. Yes… itching is MISERABLE. I’ve had one bad burn (back in my tanning bed days) that really itched like mad. I couldn’t do anything to help it. I think I actually coated myself with Lidocain cream, but it didn’t really do too much for me.

      The itching comes from the burn being deep enough to really irritate the nerve endings so if you can change the sensation for them from itching to something else it may help. I’d go with cool washcloths so your nerves are sensing “cold” rather than “itch”. Does that make sense? My only other suggestion would be to dilute some clove oil and try that. Clove essential oil contains “eugenol” which helps to numb the surface of the skin. It works great for teething pain.

  3. Shelley Alexander

    Hi Meagen, I found your site from VGN forum and I’m so glad to visit and read your fantastic post! I will share your post this week on my FB page and Pinterest. Have a great week.

  4. Thank you for this! I’m one of those pale people (day-glow white!) who lives in sunny California, and at this point I’ve found numerous sunscreen products that *don’t* work on me. I’ve been covering up instead, but now and then I’ll get a burn. Have you ever thought of making/selling a sunburn balm/cream? That would be awesome! Thank you!

  5. For sunburns, my family found out by accident that Listerine Mouth Wash works. We just put it in a spray bottle and spray it on, and it heals and takes the hurt out of the burn. Also makes it easier to sleep at night. It also helps with mosquito bites form itching.

    1. Wow, really! I’d think it would burn like it does in the mouth. Thanks for sharing… it wouldn’t make the most natural of options, but if all else fails I’d say it’s a better option than many others out there.

  6. Pingback: Naturally Loriel / Toxic Free DIY Mini Series: How To Make An Anti-Itch Oatmeal Paste

  7. I have very fair, very sensitive skin & have been unfortunate to have suffered two 2nd degree sunburns, one bordered on 3rd degree in areas. As well as a pressure cooker burn (2nd & 3rd). (I wasn’t allowed outside without a big hat & full cloth coverage for a year per Dr.s Rx.)
    I treat burns, normally, with pure Vit.E oil, cold Aloe Vera & calendula gel. But, if the burn feels hot & painful in the same areas I’ve been burned before, I apply a burn gel with lidocaine then treat.
    If it’s 2nd degree, then I bust out the Silver Sulfadiazine cream. I have it on hand because I get infected easily & it is what you use to pull out infection as well as treat burns.
    I have Spf hats & sun shield shirts & jackets & a mineral sunblock. But, every now & then I forget. I forgot last week. It sucks.

    1. I’m so sorry Sabrina… it sounds like you have experienced some bad burns over the years. I’m glad you’ve found some things to help you with them. Prevention, as you know, is key, but after that it sounds like you’ve found some great natural options for the minor things. Way to stay on top of it, and thanks for sharing what you do with us!

  8. I love your site I’ve been meandering around and leaving comments here and there. I just learned this year how to get rid of the sunburn within twenty four hours. I found it on pinterest and tried it and it worked great. Earl grey tea in a pot with 6-8 bags then cooled and applied with compresses left to sit on the affected area. The next day my sunburn was a nice tan and the pain was gone. The bergamot oil is what helps and the tannins. Hope this helps.

    1. I’ve heard about using earl grey tea… maybe green tea too. I didn’t know about the bergamot essential oil though. I always thought it was phototoxic and a no-no (at least if you’re going to be out in the sun). I’ll have to look into it though. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I have been burned before, sometimes it peels but most of the time it just turns into a tan after a day or so. Is that bad? Oh and I have never blistered after being burnt which means that I haven’t have a second degree burn. Right? Oh and last thing, I heard if you get burnt as a kid lots when you grow up you get lots of moles which can lead to skin cancer. Is it true? If so do you think I will get it? I hope you have time to reply 🙂

    1. From what I know of sunburns Ann, it’s best to avoid them all together… even letting your skin get pink or red as that’s a sign of damage. Obviously, we can’t go back in time. I too burned a lot as a kid, and I can see more signs of damage on my skin as I age. No fun! Anyway, I’m just careful about taking better care of my skin now (and keeping my kids from getting burned). As far as moles and cancer goes, moles can be normal and not a sign of cancer, but if they start to grow or get painful then it’s best to have them checked because they can become cancerous… at least as far as I know. I hope this was of some help to you, and thanks for your comment!

  10. Bethany St Andrew

    Don’t know if I agree that 2nd degree sunburns are not dangerous. I was 9 years old when I first received a second degree sunburn that covered almost 80% of my body. I was prescribed Declomycin for an infection that would not go away( before the burn) and managed to get the sunburn in less than 10 minutes. The only areas I wasn’t burned was where my bathing suit was. It was extremely painful and my parent had to take me to the dr’s a couple time a week to get my bandages changed. I don’t burn easily since.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story, Bethany, and I’m sorry for what you went through. I’m in no way saying that 2nd-degree burns don’t hurt or can’t be a big deal. They definitely can be. All I was saying was that, most times, you don’t need to go to the doctor for a 2nd-degree burn. Now, if a large portion of your body was burned, like yours was, especially if it was caused by a drug making you more susceptible to burning, that’s a completely different story and worth a doctors attention. It’s a bummer that the doctor/pharmacist didn’t go over the common side effects more thoroughly with your mother as sun-sensitivity is common with tetracycline medicines. Again, thanks for your comment.

  11. I just found your site & trying to treat 1 yr old grandchild from 1st degree sunburn on her arms. In reading I saw lavender & peppermint help ease sunburn. Decided against rubbing the EO & carrier oil on her. Opted for cool water mist w/essential oil to spray on her arms. My question is how much EO to add? There never seems to be a ratio, just which oils to use. Thanks, I enjoyed reading your posts.

    1. Hi, Susan. I would simply do aloe vera gel or juice and a drop or two of lavender EO diluted in 1/4 teaspoon of sweet almond oil or something similar, spritzed or dabbed on her skin. Do not use peppermint EO on a baby that young as it’s not safe for that age. I’m so sorry… this is an OLD post, and I will be sure to update it with EO safety info. Aloe and lavender are safe for little ones though. Best of luck!!

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