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Treatments for Sunburn

Updated on July 10, 2019
LindaSarhan profile image

Linda Sarhan has been a freelance writer and researcher for 20+ years and has a B.A. in English and creative writing.

"It is best to prevent sunburn from even occurring."

Despite our knowledge of the dangers of sun exposure, many people ignore the warnings or are simply too lazy to protect their skin. Many times people have fallen into the popular thought pattern that having a tan makes a person look healthier. What sometimes will occur is an overexposure to the sun and ultimately quite painful sunburn. Therefore, it is best to prevent sunburn from even occurring. Although there are remedies to help sunburn heal, the damage has already been done to a person's skin.

Stay Indoors

The best plan of action for healing that painful sunburn is to simply stay out of the sun for a few days. Continuing to go outside will intensify your sunburn. Even if you are careful to stay in the shade, your skin is still being exposed to ultraviolet light. Most of the sunlight you are exposed to will reflect off surfaces such as water, sand, and even concrete. What many people don't realize is that ultraviolet light can permeate clothing. So as you can see, indoor is the best place for you to heal.

Stay Cool

Staying cool is just as important as staying out of the sun. Sunburns cause the blood vessels in the skin to dilate and therefore emit heat from your skin. One way to stay cool is to keep the room cooler than unusual. This can be done by simply setting the air conditioning thermostat lower or turn on a fan.

Stay Hydrated

Becoming dehydrated is common with sunburns. It is crucial to drink plenty of water. If you are unsure whether you are dehydrated, your urine will tell all. If your urine is practically clear you are not dehydrated. If your urine is dark, you will need to increase your water intake.


The sun is a major component to dry skin. It can cause cells and blood vessels to leak which leads to even more moisture loss. Sunburn magnifies this effect. Even though cool baths and compresses relieve discomfort, it can also increase moisture loss. To prevent this, simply apply moisturizer to your skin. Storing the moisturizer in the refrigerator before applying to the skin will also help aid in comforting your sunburned skin.

Soak in the Bathtub

If the lower temperature is still not bringing any cooling relief, try soaking in a tub of cool water. This will not only cool the burn but ease the sting. Keep in mind that soap will dry out your skin, so try to avoid using soap if at all possible. If you must use soap, be sure to use a moisturizing soap such as Aveeno or Dove. It is also advised not to use a washcloth, bath sponge, or loofah.

For added relief, you could add baking soda to the water. If you do, make sure you use the baking soda in moderation. Another product you could use instead of baking soda is Aveeno's Oatmeal Powder. Simply follow the directions on the container.

Also, keep in mind that you should stay in the tub for a lengthy amount of time. If you are the type that enjoys long baths and loses track of time, a cool shower may be better for you. Soaking too long may increase itching and peeling. It is advised to soak no longer than 15 to 20 minutes. When it comes to drying off, remember to pat dry with a soft towel.

Oatmeal Compress

Oatmeal is great for drawing heat out of the sunburn. To make an oatmeal compress simply lay out a clean towel, and add a layer or two of old-fashion oatmeal. Then place another towel on top of the oatmeal. Next, add cool water and squeeze the oatmeal liquid over the sunburn. If possible, rub the dripping across the sunburn. Finally, apply the compress to the sunburn area.

Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera works wonders to aid relief to sunburnt skin. The thick, clear, gel-like juice of the aloe vera plant will cause the blood vessels to constrict thus easing the sting and reduce the redness of the skin. Aloe Vera is found at nurseries, but stores like Wal-Mart have been known to have them in stock as well. Once you have the plant, simply slit open one of the broad leaves and apply the gel-like substance to the sunburn area. You will need to apply this five to six times a day. You could also use a bottle of plain aloe vera if you do not feel like dealing with the upkeep of a plant.


Over-the-counter (OTC) Pain Reliever

For the pain and inflammation associated with sunburn, you could use a nonprescription pain reliever such as aspirin or ibuprofen. If aspirin upsets your stomach, you could try an OTC acetaminophen but keep in mind this will only help the pain not the inflammation. As with any OTC medication, read and follow the directions and heed any warnings on the label.

Topical Anesthetic

A topical anesthetic is another option for pain. Solarcaine may provide immediate relief but is just temporary. When looking for a topical anesthetic, look for products that contain lidocaine. This will limit the possibility of an allergic reaction. Always test a spot for allergic reactions before spreading it across the entire sunburn.

Topical anesthetics come in two forms; cream and spray. Sprays are easier to apply, especially if the sunburn covers a wide area. Do not apply a spray to the face. Instead, spray some on gauze and gently dab it on the sunburn areas of the face.


Over-the-counter hydrocortisone can help relieve itching and pain associated with sunburns. OTC hydrocortisone comes in creams and sprays. Look for a product that contains 0.05 percent to 1 percent hydrocortisone.


Blistering is common with a more severe sunburn. Excessive blistering can be life-threatening. Infection can easily set in. It is advised to seek medical attention immediately if a person has excessive blistering. A few tiny blisters may not be too worrisome, but they can still be susceptible to infection. It is not advised to pop blisters because it will increase the chances of infections. If an infection occurs, you will need to see a physician.


In the end, the best cure for sunburn is time. It doesn't matter what remedy you use, it will not speed up the healing process. It will just make the healing time more bearable. This suggested treatments will merely ease the symptoms of sunburn not cure it.

Degrees of Sunburn

Degree of Sunburn
Signs and Symptoms
First Degree
The skin turns pink or red. The pain and swelling starts at 4 hours, intensifies at 24 hours, and improves after 48 hours.
Second Degree
Prolonged sun exposure can cause blistering and a second-degree burn. It can also cause further complications, such as sun poisoning.
Third Degree
Very rare and deadly. Third degree sunburn occurs when the body is out of fluids and therefore has destroyed the cells and nerves.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2014 L. Sarhan


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