Preventing Sunburn in Horses - Protect & Treat Sunburnt Nose

I recently purchased a horse with a large white blaze.  He is out on pasture all day and is suffering from sunburn on his nose.  I have tried to use the face masks that have a nose cover, but he plays face games with the other horses all day and his mask frequently gets ripped off and destroyed.  I was hoping my horse would get a “tan” and stop burning, but his skin is as pink as ever.  What can I do? HW, Illinois

Dear HW, 

Thanks for this question because it made me go to the Skin Cancer Foundation website and read up about skin, the sun, and how to protect ourselves from it, an area all of us need to stay current on.  I think their three-pronged approach to sun protection can be applied equally well to horses, which is:

  1. Use sunscreen
  2. Seek the shade
  3. Cover up with clothing 

Use sunscreen
While there are sunscreen products specifically made for horses–such as Quic Shade and Quic Screen–it appears that sunscreen products made for humans are just as safe to use on our equine companions.  Sunscreens come in two categories:  1) organic absorbers/filters and 2) inorganic physical blockers (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide).  You’ll probably have the most luck not only with a product that includes a chemical from each category but also more than one chemical from the organic category, since it’s hard to find one chemical that blocks UVA1, UVA2 and UVB.  According to the FDA, the agency that regulates sunscreens, products with an SPF 15 or higher are acceptable.  That’s because SPF 15 filters out 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 filters out 97%, and SPF 50 filters out 98%.  So there’s not a lot more protection at the higher ratings.

Remember the rules about applying sunscreen? Apply ½ hour before sun exposure and reapply every two hours.  While that schedule might be difficult for most horse owners, definitely reapply after exercise, rain, a bath or grooming.  If your horse is grazing, then he’s probably rubbing off much of the sunscreen in the grass.  You could try using a brightly colored sunscreen or sunblock so you can see when this happens.  Plus it will keep your neighbors guessing what color your horse will be sporting each day!

Seek the shade
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends avoiding exposure to the sun between 10am and 4pm.  Is this something you could do with your horse?  Many people who are trying to prevent their black horses from bleaching keep them in well-ventilated stalls during the day and only turn them out at night.  At the very minimum, provide an optional break from the sun’s rays in the form an inexpensive horse shade, a more solid lean-to, or even trees.

Cover up with clothing
A broad-brimmed straw hat and sunglasses is probably out of the question for your horse, and you mention you’ve already tried the long fly masks that cover the muzzle.  I assume you’ve tried every brand that makes one?  As I’m sure you know, some fly masks stay on better than others, and it has as much to do with the size and shape of a horse’s head as it does with the antics of the rest of the herd.  Here’s a crazy idea:  have you thought about putting a grazing muzzle on him (or perhaps the worst of the horses that removes his fly mask)?  Although restricting a horse’s pasture intake may lead to a whole new set of problems, with either scenario you may be helping your horse.  That is, the grazing muzzle itself may protect him from the sun but if you’d prefer him not be the one wearing it, putting on the “bad boy” in your herd may protect yours from having his fly mask ripped off.  Just an idea!

I want to share one more thing with you that I learned from the Skin Cancer Foundation website.  Did you know the correct order of application in humans is moisturizer, then sunscreen, then makeup?  I think I’ve been doing this wrong all these years!