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Mom warns about sunscreen after 14-month-old daughter ended up in the ER

Rebecca Cannon thought some sunscreen was better than none. Then her daughter experienced a caustic burn from some spray sunscreen.
/ Source: TODAY

Rebecca Cannon thought she did everything right before her then 14-month-old daughter, Kyla, went out to play on an overcast day in early May, 2017. Cannon, 33, was visiting her sister in Newfoundland, Canada, and had forgotten their usual sunscreen, so borrowed some.

She sprayed the Banana Boat Kids Sunscreen Spray SPF 50 on her hands and gently rubbed it on Kyla's nose and cheeks.

“When it came to having sunscreen on, I thought it was better to have some sunscreen than none at all,” Cannon told TODAY.

In a short time, the little girl’s face became red and swollen. The next morning, it was worse.

“She was red. She was blistering,” Cannon said.

Cannon, who lives in Botwood, Newfoundland, Canada, took Kyla to the emergency room where doctors diagnosed her with a second degree burn. But Cannon couldn’t figure out how Kyla received the burn. On top of having the sunscreen, Kyla wore a hat and was covered for much of the day. Plus, the sun didn’t seem to cause burns on anyone, including Cannon, who wasn’t wearing sunscreen.

“She was the only one who had the sunscreen on and she is the only one who burned,” Cannon said.

A spray sunscreen caused Kayla's skin to swell and blister.
A spray sunscreen caused Kyla's skin to swell and blister.Courtesy Rebecca Cannon

The doctors prescribed a cream, but after two applications, Kyla’s face was redder and more swollen. They returned to the ER and Kyla was then sent to a dermatologist, who diagnosed her with a “caustic burn from something in the sunscreen.”

Cannon talked to Banana Boat; the company offered a refund and said it would test the sunscreen to determine the cause of the reaction. She never heard from Banana Boat again but Health Canada (a federal institution helping Canadians maintain and improve their health) has an open investigation into the sunscreen because it received complaints about similar burns.

When this story was first published in 2017, Banana Boat and its parent company, Edgewell Personal Care Company, responded to TODAY in a statement, saying the company investigates all consumer cases:

"All Banana Boat products undergo rigorous testing to ensure they are appropriately labeled and meet all relevant health regulations, including SPF tests. All Banana Boat sunscreens also fall within a neutral PH range, which means they are safe for human skin, topical use, and cannot cause chemical burns, which are sometimes mistakenly linked to personal care products or confused with sunburns, or tissue damage."

Dr. Adam Friedman — who did not treat Kyla — said that irritant contact dermatitis, what likely happened to Kyla, commonly occurs when an irritating substance touches a person’s skin. Something like an alcohol or even vitamin C, both ingredients found in sunscreens, could cause it.

“It could simply be an irritant reaction rather than something unique to this product,” he said.

A spray sunscreen caused Kayla's skin to swell and blister.
Almost two weeks after having a reaction to sunscreen, Kyla cheeks were still red from it.Courtesy Rebecca Cannon

While the Banana Boat label says the product is safe for children six months and older, Friedman recommends that children use mineral block sunscreens — zinc oxide or titanium dioxide — until they’re about 4 or 5 years old.

“There are specific sunscreens for different ages because there are unique biological differences at different ages,” Friedman said. “Infant skin is much more irritable.”

Kyla has no scars a year after experiencing bad burns from contact dermatitis from sunscreen.
Today, Kyla has no scars a year after experiencing bad burns from contact dermatitis from sunscreen.Courtesy Rebecca Cannon

Cannon did the absolute correct thing by rubbing the spray sunscreen into Kyla's skin, Friedman said. Many people forget that. And, she used clothing to cover Kyla, which adds extra protection.

Sunscreen also needs to be applied every two hours, Friedman said.

When TODAY followed up with the family last year, Kyla had no scars on her face from the burn. Still, her mom shared a warning for other parents:

“I never thought in a million years that this would happen,” she told TODAY in a recent interview. “I just want people to do their due diligence when they are putting stuff on their youngsters.”