Golf ball-size blisters covered a Berea, Ky., toddler's shoulders when his mother retrieved the boy from his father's home Sunday, and police have charged his father with first-degree criminal abuse.
The 2-year-old had been outside earlier that day for an hour and a half with no apparent protection from the sun, police said.
The boy had second-degree burns, the equivalent of brief immersion in scalding water.
Bobby J. Jones, 27, was in the Madison County Jail Tuesday on a $7,500 cash bond.
The mother, who officials have not identified, brought the boy to the police department Sunday after she discovered the child's burns. His shoulders, face, chest and back were burnt, Beria Police Capt. Ken Clark said.
"This was pretty bad," Clark added.
The mother later took the child to Pattie A. Clay Hospital in Richmond, where he was treated and discharged.
The child's age and the circumstances behind the burns led to the police department's decision to press charges against Jones.
"There's a difference between what I would call a normal sunburn, and we're talking about blisters here, huge blisters," Clark said. "It's endangering that child."
Jones declined to comment.
Children are more apt to get sunburns because they are outside for longer periods of time than adults, said Dr. Margaret Terhune, a dermatologist with the Lexington Clinic. Children also pay less attention to the sun's heat.
"They have to rely on someone else for sunscreen, so if they don't have an adult to put it on them, that's an issue," she said.
But if the Berea incident had involved an older child, "I don't think the response would be quite the same," Terhune said.
A fair-skinned person can begin to burn after 15 minutes in the sun without proper protection, Terhune said.
Second-degree burns like those of the Berea toddler are equivalent to being immersed in scalding water for a brief period, Terhune said. Such a deep burn can lead to severe blistering, pain and dehydration.
The high temperature in the Lexington area was 91 degrees on Sunday and the sky was partly sunny. Terhune said people are more apt to get sunburns when there are some clouds because they think the sun can't penetrate the clouds.
Children and adults should wear sun-protective clothing, hats with wide brims, sunglasses and sunscreen when they go outside during the summer, Terhune said.
But there are still cases when parents, for one reason or another, allow their children to get sunburns.
"People aren't perfect," she said. "It's the difference between what's neglect and what's not and how you define that. It's tricky."