6 Tips for Treating a Sunburn

Quick Tips and Remedies for Treating Sunburned Skin

Preventing sunburn is easier than treating it
Preventing sunburn is easier than treating it. Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Sunburn treatment is a misnomer -- there is no way to actually get rid of sunburn, only to relieve its symptoms until it goes away on its own. Here are some quick tips that may help ease your suffering:

  • Try taking a cool bath or shower. Or place wet, cold wash cloths on the burn for 10 to 15 minutes, several times a day. You can mix baking soda in the water to help relieve the pain. (Small children may become easily chilled, so keep the water tepid.)
  • If your skin is not blistering, moisturizing cream may be applied to relieve discomfort. Aloe gel is a common household remedy for sunburns; it contains active compounds that help stop the pain and inflammation. Hydrocortisone cream may also be effective.
  • Do not apply petroleum jelly, benzocaine, lidocaine, or butter to the sunburn. They make the symptoms worse and can prevent healing.
  • If blisters are present, dry bandages may help prevent infection. Do not puncture blisters as that may slow healing.
  • Over-the-counter medications, like ibuprofen, may help to relieve pain from sunburn. (Remember, do NOT give aspirin to children.)
  • Do not wash burned skin with harsh soap.

Call a doctor immediately if there are signs of shock, heat exhaustion, dehydration, or other serious reaction. These signs include:

  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Rapid pulse or rapid breathing
  • Extreme thirst, no urine output or sunken eyes
  • Pale, clammy or cool skin
  • Nausea, fever, chills or rash
  • Your eyes hurt and are sensitive to light
  • Severe, painful blisters

Since sunburn indicates underlying damage to the DNA in skin cells, it should be avoided if at all possible. Chronic overexposure to the sun is associated with skin cancer, mostly the basal cell and squamous cell types.

A history of three or more blistering sunburns before age 20 also greatly increases your risk of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. Too much sun also causes wrinkling, premature aging, age spots (lentigines), and cataracts.

To prevent sunburn and its associated health consequences, be sure to apply broad-spectrum sunscreen, avoid the midday sun, and wear a hat, sunglasses and other protective clothing.

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