How to Treat a Sunburn

Sunburn Treatment

From last week’s Health Tip, you should all know how important it is to protect your skin from the sun.  Unfortunately, there are times when we still might end up with a sunburn, despite our best efforts.  It is important to know how to treat a sunburn correctly.

Here are the basics for treating a sunburn:

  1. Take it seriously – This is a burn, like any other type of burn.
  2. Act fast to cool down your skin –  Get out of the sun, preferably indoors, as soon as you recognize that you are getting a sunburn.  Take a cool bath or shower as soon as possible.  If you cannot get indoors, cover up with clothing or a towel, and seek shade.  Use cold water and a small towel to make a cold compress for your skin.  Do not put ice directly on your skin.  The compress will warm quickly, so you will have to frequently refresh it with cold water.
  3. Moisturize – You can continue to take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain.  When you get out of the tub or shower, gently pat your skin dry with a soft towel.  Do not rub your skin.  Leave your skin a little damp.  Then apply a moisturizer while your skin is still damp.  This helps to trap water in your skin.  You should moisturize your sunburned skin 3 or 4 times a day while the burn is healing.
  4. Decrease inflammation – Consider taking ibuprofen or naproxen to help decrease inflammation, and reduce swelling and discomfort.  You can also use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream (1%), which can also help with inflammation.  Apply this up to 4 times a day to the affected areas of the skin.
  5. Soothe your skin – Aloe Vera can be used to help soothe your skin.  Be careful to choose an Aloe product that does not contain alcohol.  Alcohol is very drying to your skin and that is the last thing your skin needs when it is burned.  Do not treat sunburn with “-caine” products (such as benzocaine), as these may irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.  You might also consider an oatmeal bath.  This is very soothing to the skin.  For instructions on preparing an oatmeal bath, look back at my Health Tip from 3/1/19 Oatmeal Baths – A Home Remedy to Soothe Your Skin.
  6. Drink plenty of fluids – The sunburn pulls fluid to the surface of your skin, which takes it away from the rest of your body.  Replace that fluid by drinking more fluids, especially water.
  7. Do not pop blisters – If your skin blisters, allow the blisters to heal naturally.  Blisters actually protect the skin as it is healing.  The intact blister protects your skin from becoming infected.
  8. Protect your skin as it heals – New skin is being formed as the burned skin is being lost, which you see as peeling.  This new skin is very sensitive to the sun.  Give it extra protection by wearing clothing that covers it when outdoors.  Sun protective clothing especially made for blocking UV rays is great.  Alternatively, you can wear clothing made from a tightly woven fabric.
  9. When to see your doctor
    • If the sunburn includes severe blistering over a large area
    • If you have fever or chills associated with the sunburn
    • If you feel woozy, dizzy, faint, or confused
    • If there are any signs of infection as the sunburn is healing, such as red streaks or drainage of fluid or pus

If you have any questions about sunburn treatment, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor

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