If a person experiences sunburn, there are steps they can take to ease the pain and encourage healing.
This article will detail the home and medical treatments available for sunburn relief, and when someone should seek professional care.
If a sunburn is red and feels warm, there are ways to help ease symptoms:
- Take a bath: Bathing in cool, but not cold, water can soothe sunburn and relieve inflammation.
- Apply cool compresses: Soft washcloths, or other cloths dipped in cool water, can help where the skin is particularly red.
- Apply moisturizers: Moisturizers, or over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream, can reduce inflammation in painful areas. It is best to apply these after a bath to trap in moisture.
- OTC pain reliever: Medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can help ease the pain.
- Drink plenty of water: Staying hydrated can help prevent dehydration by reducing water losses.
- Do not pop blisters: Blisters should be allowed to heal on their own. A person who pops blisters can increase their risk of infection. Learn more about sunburn blisters here.
- Wear protective clothing: The American Academy of Dermatology suggests wearing tightly woven fabrics that do not let light through. This is important when going outdoors while the sunburn heals.
- Stay out of the sun: A person should avoid the sun to give their skin time to heal. Otherwise, they could worsen their sunburn and cause further damage to their skin.
It is important to treat sunburn, especially severe cases, because some burns can scar the skin.
If a person’s sunburn is severe or worsens after the initial burn, they should seek medical attention.
Home treatments that experts consider safe include the use of aloe vera and soy-based products.
Aloe vera gel can help relieve a sunburn’s sting. A person can break off a piece of an aloe vera plant, squeeze out the gel, and apply it to their skin. They can also apply moisturizers that contain aloe.
Learn more about using aloe vera for sunburn here.
A moisturizer treatment that incorporates soy may also help relieve sunburn.
A person should remember that many home or natural remedies lack research, and may carry risks. These include:
- applying ice directly to the skin
- applying petroleum or oil-based moisturizers
- using some topical products, such as benzocaine
Several home remedies require further research into their benefits and safety.
Most people should treat their sunburn with OTC treatments. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe medications for more severe burns. These can include:
- Prescription-strength hydrocortisone cream: Hydrocortisone creams stronger than 1% are available by prescription.
- Oral steroids: A doctor may prescribe oral steroids, such as prednisone, to reduce inflammation in the body and promote healing.
- Antibiotics: Severe sunburns that lead to skin infections may require antibiotics.
Severe sunburns and their symptoms may require a visit to a doctor or even the emergency room. Some sunburns result in second-degree burns, which can cause pain and burn deeper skin layers.
Emergency symptoms of severe sun poisoning include:
- nausea or vomiting
- severe blistering
- severe dehydration
These severe symptoms may require treatments that include:
- pain medications
- steroids to reduce inflammation
- intravenous fluids to reduce dehydration
Sometimes, a person may also need inpatient medical treatment, including antibiotics.
A person should see their primary care doctor if their symptoms include:
- signs of infection, such as draining pus, swelling, or continued warmth to the touch
- mild to moderate pain, especially pain that does not go away within a week
- slow wound healing
A doctor can prescribe treatments to ease sunburn, such as topical remedies for the skin, or pain medications. If a person develops an infection, they may also need antibiotics.
Preventive measures are the best defense against sunburn. A person should use sunscreen, stay in the shade, and wear protective clothing.
If someone experiences sunburn, they should take steps to reduce symptoms and further damage, and minimize the risk of infection.
If the sunburn is especially painful or blistering, a person should seek medical attention.