How to Treat Sunburn? A Guide for Quick Relief

Sunburns come from too much sun and can be mild to severe. Healing takes time and involves plenty of water, rest, and lotion. For bad sunburns, you might need a doctor’s help. Each year, about one out of three Americans gets sunburned, leading to over 33,000 emergency visits1.

Key Takeaways

  • Sunburns vary in severity and require different treatments.
  • Healing sunburn involves hydration and moisturization.
  • Professional treatment might be necessary for severe sunburns.
  • Approximately one-third of American adults experience sunburn annually1.
  • Over 33,000 sunburn cases lead to emergency room visits each year1.

Understanding Sunburn: Causes and Symptoms

Sunburn happens when you’re out in the sun too long. It ranges from a slight redness to severe conditions needing a doctor. Knowing why sunburn happens and its signs is key to stop and treat it.

Causes of Sunburn

Sunburn comes mainly from too much UVA and UVB sun rays. Light-skinned people burn faster, but darker skin can burn too2. Red-haired, white-skinned folks are even more likely to burn3. Surprisingly, 20% of UV rays can go through snow, sand, and water. This ups the risk in places you might think are safe3. Some meds can make your skin sunburn easier2. Being at high altitudes makes UV light stronger, raising sunburn chances3.

Recognizing Symptoms

Sunburn usually starts with redness and a bit of pain. This first-degree burn affects just the top skin layer2. It might make you swell up. This can be tough to see on darker skin3. Bad burns can lead to blisters, feel dizzy, or even cause fever or dehydration. Spotting these early matters for quick help. Sunburn also ups your risk for skin cancer on the scalp, face, lips, ears, and hands3.

When to Seek Medical Help

Knowing when to get help for sunburn is crucial. Look for help if you have a fever, bad blistering, dehydration, or feel dizzy. Get to a doctor fast if sunburn covers a lot or gets worse2. Getting medical help can avoid worse issues and help you heal. Sunburn also boosts your chances of getting melanoma and other skin cancers in the long run2.

Immediate Actions to Take After Getting Sunburned

After getting sunburned, it’s crucial to act fast. This can ease your pain and help your skin heal. Let’s go over the key steps for immediate sunburn care.

Cooling the Skin

Cooling your skin is a must-do first step. Have cool baths or use a clean towel soaked in cool water. This helps calm your skin and lessen swelling45. Never put ice right on your burn, as it might make things worse. Use a 1% hydrocortisone cream without a prescription to ease the burn. Do this three times daily for three days4.

immediate sunburn care


Keeping hydrated is very important to make up for the lost body fluids. Drink lots of water to help your body heal5. You can also use aloe vera or calamine lotion. They moisturize and calm your skin5.

Avoiding Further Sun Exposure

To heal well and avoid more damage, stay out of the sun. If you must go outside, find shade. Also, wear clothes that cover you up and use sunscreen that stops both UVA and UVB rays5. Covering your burn helps it heal faster and stops worse problems.

Immediate ActionDescription
Cooling the SkinCool baths or damp towels to soothe the skin.
Immediate HydrationDrink extra water to prevent dehydration.
Avoid Sun ExposureWear protective clothing and seek shade.

How to Treat Sunburn with Home Remedies

There are many natural ways to ease sunburn pain and help your skin heal. Using aloe vera, cold compresses, and oatmeal baths are top suggestions. Each method works well to soothe and repair your skin.

Aloe Vera for Sunburn Relief

Aloe vera is great for treating sunburn because it fights bacteria and reduces swelling. It cools the skin, lessens redness, and prevents peeling6

Putting aloe vera on sunburned skin gives quick relief. You can find aloe vera gel in most drug stores6. It helps skin heal faster and keeps it moist7.

Using Cold Compresses

Cold compresses work wonders for sunburn. Cooling the skin right away with cold compresses or cool water baths eases swelling and pain6. This method lowers skin temperature and calms burns6.

Oatmeal Baths

Oatmeal baths are effective for natural sunburn treatment too. Adding oatmeal to a cool bath can really help with the pain and discomfort of sunburn. It also reduces skin damage and calms irritation6.

For a gentle and effective way to heal sunburn, try mixing these methods. After sunburn, wear natural fabrics like cotton or bamboo to let your skin heal well6.

The Role of Pain Relievers in Sunburn Treatment

Pain relievers are key for easing sunburn pain and swelling. Taking NSAIDs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen right after getting sunburned helps a lot54. Acetaminophen works great for pain and also helps with fever58.

pain relievers for sunburn

NSAIDs: What to Take and When

Ibuprofen is a good choice for reducing sunburn symptoms. It eases pain and cuts down on swelling with sunburns54. It’s important to take it early to improve how well it works for the pain.

Topical Pain Relief Options

For pain on the skin, hydrocortisone cream is helpful. Using 1% cream three times daily for three days is effective for mild sunburns54. Lotions like aloe vera also help by keeping the skin moist4. Stay away from products with benzocaine as they might irritate the skin58.

Importance of Moisturizing for Sunburned Skin

Moisturizing sunburned skin is key. It fills the skin with water it lost, which is crucial since the outer skin needs to be kept 20-30% water9. When you get a sunburn, your skin dries out and gets hurt. Moisturizers help bring back lost moisture and aid the skin in healing.

Aloe vera or soy products are great for sunburns because they hydrate and calm the skin, as the American Academy of Dermatology says9. Aloe vera lessens swelling and redness9. Soy calms your skin9.

It’s best to use creams or lotions for sunburn relief10. Stay away from items with benzocaine or lidocaine, as they can make the skin worse9. Don’t use products with alcohol or oil like Vaseline either. They can dry out the skin even more and trap heat, causing more pain9.

There are products designed just for sunburn. For example, DU’IT VE+ Vitamin E face cream has 12% active Vitamin E, six times more than usual creams10. Probiotic lotions like Tough Body Probiotic Body Lotion contain Urea, Niacinamide, and Vitamin E. These help heal the skin with good bacteria10.

Drinking lots of water also helps the skin heal by preventing dehydration, especially after too much sun11. Taking the right steps in sunburn care and picking the best moisturizers are essential in healing fast and well.

Benefits of Aloe Vera in Sunburn Treatment

Aloe vera is famous for its skincare benefits, especially for treating sunburns. Its soothing and anti-inflammatory traits make it great for easing sunburn pain.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

A study showed aloe vera gel could lessen skin redness from sun exposure12. It has short-term anti-inflammatory effects that help relieve sunburn pain13. Dermatologists say using aloe vera can improve your skincare thanks to its moisturizing and anti-inflammatory features14.

Aloe vera has many amino acids needed for skin repair13. It’s an effective natural cure for keeping skin healthy after sunburn.

How to Apply Aloe Vera

Using aloe vera correctly is key to getting the most out of its sunburn treatment benefits. It comes in forms like gels, lotions, and balms13. Pick products with a lot of aloe vera gel for the best results.

  • Clean the affected area: Gently wash the sunburned skin with cool water.
  • Apply aloe vera gel: Use pure aloe vera gel directly from the plant or a commercial product high in aloe. Spread evenly over the burn.
  • Repeat the application: Keep applying aloe vera gel often to keep soothing and moisturizing the skin.

Always do a patch test before using it widely to prevent allergic reactions13. For more sunburn protection, use aloe vera with sunscreen SPF 30 or higher14. This method reduces sunburn symptoms and shields against future UV damage.

Summing up, aloe vera is a powerful and versatile sunburn remedy. Its anti-inflammatory qualities and correct use can greatly boost your skincare, offering relief and enhancing skin health.

How to Treat Sunburn with Over-the-Counter Medications

Over-the-counter medicines are key in easing the pain of sunburn. They make use of treatments like hydrocortisone cream. These can greatly lessen the pain and swelling

Hydrocortisone Cream

Hydrocortisone is a top pick for cutting down sunburn’s redness and swelling. You can use a 1% hydrocortisone cream without a prescription. Apply it three times a day for three days. This helps mild to moderate sunburn heal quicker54.

Additional Topical Treatments

There are more ways to treat sunburn besides hydrocortisone. For quick relief, try a cool, damp towel on the skin5. Use moisturizers that don’t have alcohol, aloe vera gel, and calamine lotion to soothe the burn54.

Also, taking cool baths with about 2 ounces of baking soda can help ease the pain4. But, stay away from products with ‘-caine’ like benzocaine because they might irritate your skin or cause an allergic reaction5.

Handling Blisters and Peeling Skin

Taking proper care of sunburned skin is key to avoid serious problems and help it heal. If taken care of the right way, blisters and peeling skin can recover without any lasting harm.

Dos and Don’ts for Blisters

Second-degree sunburns may make your skin swell and form blisters. These can show up a few hours after being in the sun or even a day later1516. It’s important not to pop these blisters. They contain fluids like lymph and plasma, which help in healing. Breaking them open can cause infections16. Blisters should be left alone to heal on their own, usually within a week16.

If a blister accidentally breaks, you should clean it carefully with soap and water. Then put on some antibiotic ointment and cover it with a bandage that doesn’t stick, to keep away infections16.

Managing Peeling Skin

Peeling usually starts three days after the sunburn15. It’s best not to scrub the peeling skin off. Let it come off naturally to allow new, healthy skin to grow without further damage15. Use moisturizers made for sunburn to help calm the skin and speed up healing. Protect this new skin from the sun as it’s very sensitive and easily hurt15.

Hydration: A Key Element in Healing Sunburn

Drinking enough water is key when recovering from a sunburn. Sunburns take moisture away from your skin, making it dry and weak. Over one third of people get sunburnt every year, showing how crucial good treatment is17. Drinking lots of fluids can help your skin heal by keeping it hydrated.

Staying hydrated is essential for your skin to heal well. It helps your skin keep up its barrier against germs. Drinking sports drinks is great for getting back electrolytes lost after being in the sun too much18. Being outside a lot, especially on vacation, can make you get a lot more sun. This makes it super important to drink fluids17.

It’s important to drink a lot of water and use lotions to keep your skin moist. Putting lotion on a lot right after getting sunburnt can stop your skin from getting too dry18. Doing both – drinking water and using lotion – helps your skin heal faster. It makes your skin stronger and healthier.

What to Avoid When Treating Sunburn

When treating sunburn, you must avoid mistakes and harmful products. Knowing what not to do helps heal faster and prevents more skin damage.

Common Mistakes

One big mistake is not reapplying sunscreen every two hours. This keeps your skin safe from harmful UV rays19. Many also forget that drinking water is key to skin recovery, as it rehydrates your skin19. Plus, don’t let sunburned skin get more sun before it has healed. This can make things worse and slow down the healing.

Products to Steer Clear Of

Stay away from products with ‘-caine’ like benzocaine, which could irritate your skin or cause an allergic reaction5. Benzocaine might even lead to methemoglobinemia, a serious condition reducing blood oxygen5. Instead of products with harsh chemicals, choose gentle treatments made for burned or sensitive skin.

If you get a serious sunburn, it’s best to get professional medical help. Centers like the Burn Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center can help avoid infections, lasting skin damage, and issues like dehydration19. Avoiding the wrong treatments and products can make your recovery quicker and safer.

Advanced Treatments for Severe Sunburn

Severe sunburn often calls for special care. This might mean using prescription creams or a hospital stay5. Signs like blisters, lots of pain, feeling sick, and a fever mean you need a doctor’s help11. To diagnose sunburn, doctors will check you and ask about your symptoms and sun history5.

If you have a severe sunburn, you might get a special cream from your doctor5. Sometimes, taking care of the skin and using medicines to ease inflammation is needed11. If the burn causes dehydration or other serious symptoms, you may need hospital care5.

Hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines help with mild to moderate sunburns. They ease pain and lessen swelling5. Drinking a lot of water is also key because burns can make you lose fluids11. These steps help stop more damage and heal your skin faster.

  1. Conduct a physical examination and inquire about UV exposure.
  2. Recommend prescription corticosteroid creams or admission to a hospital if necessary.
  3. Manage severe cases with skin dressings and anti-inflammatory medications.
  4. Advise patients to maintain hydration to counter fluid loss from the skin.

People with severe burns need to know when to get medical help. This includes asking doctors about over-the-counter and prescription sunburn treatments5. Getting help from healthcare professionals is key to healing from severe sunburn.

Potential Complications of Sunburn

Sunburn can cause much more than just immediate pain and discomfort. These issues can show up in different ways, sometimes needing medical help to avoid more health problems.


When sunburn is severe, infections become a big concern. Damaged skin loses its ability to protect against bacteria. Blisters from sunburn act like an open invitation for bacteria, raising the chance of infection. It’s very important to keep the area clean and take care of the skin to prevent these problems.

Long-Term Skin Damage

  • Premature aging of the skin
  • Dark spots
  • A higher chance of getting skin cancer, especially melanoma
  • Long-lasting inflammation and sensitivity

The pain from sunburn comes from UVB rays hurting the skin and can make the body release certain chemicals, worsening the burn. Both UVA and UVB rays can harm the skin’s DNA, leading to cell death, swelling, and increased blood flow. Getting sunburnt often makes these problems worse and can cause severe skin issues later on.

Skin Damage TypeDescription
HyperpigmentationDark spots on the skin from too much melanin
MelanomaA serious type of skin cancer often linked to sunburn and UV rays
PhotoagingEarly signs of aging, like wrinkles, from sun damage

Knowing about these problems highlights why it’s key to take care of your skin after a sunburn. Wearing protective clothes, using sunscreen often, and staying out of too much sun can help prevent skin damage from sunburn317.

Preventing Future Sunburns

It’s really important to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Doing this can help you avoid sunburn and serious skin issues.

Effective Use of Sunscreen

Applying sunscreen the right way is key to preventing sunburn. You should use a sunscreen with at least SPF 30. It needs to shield you from both UVA and UVB rays, as the American Academy of Dermatology suggests20. Put it on 15 minutes before going into the sun.

Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours. Do this more often if you’re swimming or sweating a lot20. If you’re taking certain medications, like antibiotics or antidepressants, be extra careful. These can make your skin more sensitive to the sun2.

Protective Clothing and Accessories

Another great way to prevent sunburn is by wearing the right clothes. Choose wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and tightly woven outfits. These can really help block the sun’s rays. Experts recommend staying out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. This is when the sun’s rays are strongest2.

Using sunscreens that are good for the environment is also a smart choice. Some places have banned sunscreens that harm ocean reefs20.

To keep your skin safe, make sure to use sunscreen and wear protective gear. This way, you can have fun outdoors without worrying about sunburn.

Impact of Lifestyle Choices on Sunburn Recovery

Lifestyle choices play a big part in how sunburn heals. Smoking and what you eat are very important. They affect how fast and well your skin can recover from sunburn.

Smoking and Healing

Smoking is bad for healing sunburns. It slows down the body’s ability to heal, making less blood go to the skin. This can make healing take longer and might lead to more problems. Smokers are also more likely to get bad sunburns. This is because smoking lowers skin antioxidants, leaving it more open to damage from UV rays521.

Role of Nutrition

Eating right is key to healing sunburns well. Foods high in vitamins C and E can fix damaged skin and lessen swelling. It’s important to drink lots of water too. Staying hydrated helps avoid dehydration and keeps skin healthy while it heals522. Eating well also makes your skin stronger against UV damage in the future.

When to Seek Professional Medical Help

If a sunburn gets worse, causing blisters, peeling, fever, or vomiting, it’s time to get help. Serious cases might need a doctor’s care, maybe even a hospital visit for treatment and relief23. It’s key to notice these signs early. Doing so can prevent worse issues later.

A skin doctor might suggest special creams for bad sunburns to ease swelling and pain5. If you start feeling very dehydrated, confused, or have a high fever above 103°F, see a doctor right away23. Getting help quickly is important. It helps you get better faster and stops other problems like infections or lasting skin damage23.

Knowing when a sunburn is really bad, like sun poisoning, is crucial. This condition might make your skin itchy, break out in hives, or look like eczema and needs a doctor’s care with special treatments23. If sunburns keep happening a lot, a test to check how your skin reacts to sunlight could help5. Being aware of how to take care of serious sunburns is a smart way to protect yourself.


What are the causes of sunburn?

Sunburn happens when the skin gets too much UV light. People with light skin or taking certain medicines are at a bigger risk.

What symptoms should I look for in sunburn?

Look for red skin, swelling, and pain. Bad sunburns may cause blisters, fever, dehydration, and dizziness. These require a doctor’s care.

When should I seek medical help for sunburn?

Get medical help for bad pain, blisters, high fever over 103°F, dehydration, confusion, or infection signs.

What are immediate actions to take after getting sunburned?

Cool the skin with cool baths. Drink plenty of water and keep out of the sun to heal.

How can aloe vera help in treating sunburn?

Aloe vera lessens inflammation and moisturizes the skin. It helps stop peeling and soothes sunburn symptoms well.

What are some home remedies for sunburn?

Home treatments include aloe vera, cold cloths, and oatmeal baths. These can ease pain and swelling.

What pain relievers can I use for sunburn?

NSAIDs like ibuprofen help with swelling and pain. Creams like hydrocortisone also aid in reducing swelling.

Why is moisturizing important for sunburned skin?

Moisturizing adds back lost water to the skin. It helps the skin’s barrier heal and stops more harm.

What over-the-counter medications can treat sunburn?

Over-the-counter options like hydrocortisone cream help ease pain and heal the skin.

How should I handle blisters and peeling skin from sunburn?

Don’t pop blisters; let them heal on their own. For peeling skin, be gentle and moisturize to help new skin.

How does hydration help in sunburn recovery?

Drinking water is key since burns dry out the skin. Enough water helps the skin rehydrate and recover faster.

What should I avoid when treating sunburn?

Stay away from ‘caine’ products and more sun. These can irritate the burn or slow the healing.

What are advanced treatments for severe sunburn?

Bad sunburns might need prescribed creams or hospital care. Getting help early can avoid worse problems.

What are the potential complications of sunburn?

Sunburns can lead to infections and lasting skin damage. Taking good care of a sunburn can prevent these.

How can I prevent future sunburns?

Use sunscreen of at least SPF 15. Wear clothes that cover, hats, and sunglasses. Avoid the sun during the hottest times.

How do lifestyle choices affect sunburn recovery?

Smoking slows healing. Eating foods rich in nutrients helps your skin fix itself. Don’t smoke, and eat healthy for quicker healing.

When should I seek professional medical help for sunburn?

Get help for sunburns with bad blistering, high fever, dehydration, confusion, or worry signs of other diseases.

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