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Paediatric sunburn: The experience of an Australian paediatric burns unit


  • Conflict of interest: None declared.

Correspondence: Dr Latifa Mah, Department of General Surgery, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Hospital Ave., Nedlands, WA 6009 Australia. Fax: 9346 3712; email:



The number of hospital presentations and admissions for treatment of sunburn remains significant, despite efforts to educate the public regarding sun protection. Current literature chiefly examines public health campaigns and sun protection behaviours and attitudes. There are very few articles that explore paediatric sunburn requiring hospital presentation. This study was therefore undertaken to provide a snapshot of this issue and to identify patterns and causative factors in the development of severe sunburn requiring hospital presentation.


Data were collected for retrospective analysis from case records of patients who presented with sunburn and were registered on the Burns Service database at the Women's and Children's Hospital in South Australia. This study includes patients who presented during the period of October 2006 to March 2011.


There were 81 cases identified over the period of 2006–2011 from the Burns database that had sufficient information for the purpose of this study. Factors such as outdoor activity and water sports were predictably apparent, with patients being burned on days with extremely high ultraviolet ratings. Key patterns that emerged were location of sunburn and sun protection use, which were gender and age specific.


Larger-scale studies are warranted to further delineate the contributing factors and to identify the specific populations of children at risk of sunburn. Future educational programmes can therefore target these subgroups and behaviours for effective prevention of sunburn. Tailored campaigns that address these factors may be of greater impact in reducing hospital presentations and admissions of significant sunburn.

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