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Sunburns can be surprisingly serious.

While enjoying the warm sun at outdoor picnics, glorious trips to the beach, or even playing on the backyard swing set, parents do not anticipate that their child will need medical attention for a sunburn. However, burns can happen quickly with children. We all know that when you get a sunburn, your skin turns red and hurts. If the sunburn is severe, you can develop swelling and blisters. You may have chills, nausea, headaches and feel weak. If your child experiences any of these symptoms, it is important to visit a burn care specialist to assess the burn.

When your child is treated at Shriners Children’s you know the outcome is in the hands of the medical leaders in burn care. Our compassionate and skilled physicians and nurses will walk you through every step of the healing process with the most innovative burn care treatments available.

What do I need to know about sunburns?

Sunburn is a form of skin damage caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds. UV rays can penetrate the skin, damaging the DNA in skin cells, leading to inflammation and the characteristic redness, pain and peeling associated with sunburn.

  • Symptoms: Sunburn symptoms usually appear within a few hours after exposure and can include redness, pain, tenderness, swelling, and in severe cases, blisters and peeling.
  • UV radiation: Sunburn can occur from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and contribute to premature aging and wrinkling, while UVB rays cause the more immediate sunburn response.
  • Risk factors: Fair-skinned individuals, people with a history of sunburn, and those exposed to intense sunlight without protection are at a higher risk of sunburn. UV radiation is stronger at higher altitudes and during peak sun hours.
  • Long-term effects: Repeated sunburns can increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. It can also accelerate skin aging, and lead to premature wrinkles and age spots.
  • Prevention: Proper sun protection is crucial to prevent sunburn. This includes wearing protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking sunglasses, seeking shade when the sun is strongest, and regularly applying broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.

Risks of Sunburn

  • Skin cancer: Severe sunburns, especially during childhood and adolescence, can significantly increase the risk of developing skin cancer later in life.
  • Immune suppression: Sunburn can temporarily weaken the immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections.
  • Dehydration: Sunburn can lead to fluid loss from the skin, potentially causing dehydration, especially if proper hydration is not maintained.
  • Pain and discomfort: Sunburns can be painful and uncomfortable, affecting daily activities and sleep.
  • Long-term skin damage: Repeated sunburns contribute to premature aging of the skin, leading to wrinkles, fine lines and loss of skin elasticity.

Shriners Children's Burn Care Accreditation

Three Shriners Children's locations providing burn care are accredited by the American Burn Association (ABA) and the American College of Surgeons (ACS) as verified pediatric burn centers.

We have a strong connection to and history with the ABA. All of the Shriners Children's burn care chiefs of staff at the above locations have been presidents of the ABA. These distinctions display the depth of the burn care support services we provide, as well as the vast amounts of research we lead on behalf of our patients and children around the world who have been burned.

Specific treatments and services may vary by location. Please contact a specific location for more information.

Levels of Burns Caused by the Sun

First-degree sunburn:

  • Mild burn affecting the outer layer of the skin (epidermis).
  • Symptoms include redness, pain and slight swelling.
  • Generally, heals within a few days to a week with proper care.

Second-degree sunburn:

  • A more severe burn affecting both the outer layer and the underlying skin (dermis).
  • Symptoms include intense redness, blistering, swelling and significant pain.
  • Healing may take a few weeks and scarring is possible if not properly treated.

Third-degree sunburn:

  • Extremely severe burn penetrating deep into the skin layers and possibly affecting nerves, blood vessels and muscles.
  • Symptoms include charring or darkening of the skin, widespread blistering and intense pain.
  • Third-degree sunburns require immediate medical attention and can lead to permanent tissue damage.

Treatment of Sunburns

Sunburn injuries are painful and require professional medical care if more than a mild burn.

If your child receives a mild sunburn:

  • Apply cool compresses to your child’s skin or suggest a cool bath to soothe the burn.
  • Gently rub on a cream or gel containing ingredients such as aloe to take the sting out of the sunburn. Try refrigerating the cream first to make it feel better on your child’s skin.
  • Provide an over-the-counter pain reliever with acetaminophen. Be sure to use the proper dose for your child’s age and weight.
  • Make sure you child stays hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Avoid the sun until the sunburn heals.

Important: Never put ice on a burn, including a sunburn. If symptoms are more than mild, seek medical attention at a healthcare facility.

Prevention is Key to Avoiding Serious Sunburns

Burn prevention is important year round. Burns can happen quickly with children, and these tips can help prevent burn-related injuries. Be mindful of medications that may increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun.


  • Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of how well a sunscreen protects against UVB rays.
  • Higher SPF values provide more protection, but no sunscreen can block 100% of UV rays.
  • Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher for adequate protection.
  • Apply sunscreen generously and evenly to all exposed skin.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more frequently if your child is playing in water or sweating. (Read the package directions)

Clothing and Accessories

  • Keep infants less than 6 months old out of direct sun; dress them in a hat and lightweight clothing that protects the arms and legs. When adequate clothing and shade are not available, parents can apply a minimal amount of sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to small areas, such as the face and the back of the hands.
  • Dress children and infants older than 6 months in tightly-woven, loose-fitting protective clothing that covers the arms and legs.
  • Opt for wide-brimmed hats to protect the face, ears and neck.
  • Use UV-blocking sunglasses to shield your child’s eyes from harmful rays.

Sun Exposure Timing

  • Encourage frequent breaks from the sun in shaded areas, especially when the sun is the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Seek shade or create your own using an umbrella or canopy.
  • Be cautious of reflected sunlight from water, sand or snow, which can increase UV exposure.

Why Does Skin Peel After a Sunburn?

Peeling after sunburn occurs as a part of the body's natural healing process in response to the damage caused by excessive exposure to UV rays from the sun.

Skin peels becasue of:

  • Cellular damage: When the skin is exposed to intense UV radiation, it can cause damage to the skin cells. UV rays penetrate the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) and reach the deeper layers, damaging DNA and disrupting the normal functioning of skin cells.
  • Inflammatory response: The body's immune system recognizes the damaged skin cells and initiates an inflammatory response to repair the damage. Inflammation is the body's way of protecting and healing itself.
  • Increased cell turnover: As part of the healing process, the body triggers an increased turnover of skin cells. New cells are rapidly produced to replace the damaged cells.
  • Dead skin cell removal: As new cells are formed, the damaged and dead skin cells on the outermost layer of the epidermis start to detach from the skin surface. This process is what leads to peeling.
  • Regeneration of healthy skin: The peeling helps to get rid of the damaged skin and make way for the new, healthier cells underneath. This promotes the regeneration of the epidermal layer and speeds up the healing process.

Peeling after sunburn is a natural mechanism to remove the damaged skin and promote the growth of healthy skin. However, it's important to avoid picking or peeling the skin forcibly, as it can lead to further irritation or infection, and delay the healing process. Instead, keep the affected area moisturized and protected from further sun exposure while allowing the peeling to occur naturally.

Applying soothing lotions or aloe vera gel can help alleviate discomfort during this process. If you have severe sunburn or concerns about the healing process, consult a healthcare professional for proper guidance and care.

Why Are Sunglasses Important?

Sunglasses are important for various reasons. Choose sunglasses with UV protection, and consider polarized lenses for better glare reduction and eye comfort. Quality sunglasses are an investment in your eye health and overall well-being.

Sunglasses are important for:

  • Eye protection: Sunglasses shield your eyes from harmful UV rays, reducing the risk of eye damage and certain eye conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration.
  • Skin protection: They provide a barrier for the delicate skin around the eyes, reducing the chances of wrinkles and skin cancer caused by sun exposure.
  • Glare reduction: Sunglasses minimize glare from surfaces like water, snow or roads, enhancing visibility and reducing eye strain.
  • Comfort and vision: They improve visual comfort, making it easier to see in bright sunlight and prevent squinting, which can lead to headaches.
  • Preventing photokeratitis: Wearing sunglasses on sunny days, especially in snowy or beach environments, helps prevent photokeratitis, a painful eye condition similar to sunburn.
  • Reducing eye fatigue: Sunglasses help reduce eye fatigue caused by prolonged exposure to bright light, promoting better visual performance.
  • Safety while driving: They enhance safety while driving by improving vision and reducing glare, which can prevent accidents caused by temporary blindness.

Remember, these tips are general guidelines, and it is essential to consult a medical professional for personalized advice.

If there is a need to be met, Shriners Children's staff step forward. I can pick up the phone and call anyone in the hospital and they will want to help. Our patients always come first and we make sure they have everything they need.
Mary, Boston
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