Sunburn is better prevented than treated.
Sunscreens are an important means of prevention, along with hats, clothing and avoiding sun exposure in the middle of the day when ultraviolet (UV) radiation is at its most intense. Sunscreens with the widest range of UVA and UVB block are called broad-spectrum. UVB is more intense than UVA, but UVA can still burn. Pharmacists stock many brands of broad-spectrum sunscreens.
Chemical sunscreens absorb the harmful ultraviolet light to protect the skin against sunburn. Because different chemicals have varying effects on UVA and UVB protection, a combination of chemicals is usually used in sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens should be applied at least 15 minutes before sun exposure, to make the chemicals — cinnamates, octocrylene and the less commonly used para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and derivatives — more active on the skin.
Physical sunscreens deflect UV radiation from the skin rather than absorb it. Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are particularly effective, especially for the nose and ears. The spectrum of titanium dioxide protection extends into the UVA range and so it is often included in combinations with chemical sunscreens.
Sunscreens alone are not 100 per cent effective in preventing sun-related skin damage. Other essential sun protection includes lip balm with SPF, sunglasses, hats and clothing.
Also, you should seek shade whenever possible and try to avoid being outdoors in the middle of the day (11am to 3pm during daylight savings time and 10am to 2pm at other times of the year).
If you do get a mild dose of sunburn, you should:
A moisturiser will not prevent peeling, but will help relieve the irritation of dry, flaky skin.
Pine bark extract may assist in the treatment of sunburn.
You should also seek medical advice if your child gets moderate to severe sunburn, as they may need treatment for dehydration, and appropriate skin care.
Last Reviewed: 11 March 2009