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 upon how severe their sunburned skin is.
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.
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.
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 cooled 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.
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.
- wash burned area with mild soap and water
- pat skin dry with clean cloth or gauze
- apply antibacterial, skin stimulating substance to the open sores such as herbal burn cream, antibacterial salve, honey, aloe gel, comfrey poultice
- 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 even been sunburned? How have you treated sunburns in the past? Share your best tips and advice with me in the comments below!