Tips and Treatments for Easing a Sunburn

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.

Sunburns can range from mild to severe. A first-degree sunburn refers to reddening of the skin. A second-degree sunburn often produces blisters.

Let's take a look at what methods may help the symptoms of your sunburn, what symptoms may be warning signs of a more serious condition, and how to make sure that next time you spend time in the sun, you won't end up burned.

Treating sunburn
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The Best Remedies for Easing the Discomfort of a Sunburn

There are a number of remedies that may help decrease the discomfort of your sunburn. These include:

  • Try taking a cool bath or shower. Or place wet, cold washcloths 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, that is, room temperature.)
  • If your skin is not blistering, moisturizing cream may be applied to relieve discomfort. But, remember, it should generally be used only when a burn has begun to heal and has reached the dry, itchy stage. 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. If the burn is severe, your healthcare provider may prescribe prescription medication, Silvadene, which is used in burn patients.
  • Do not apply petroleum jelly, benzocaine, lidocaine, or butter to the sunburn. They make the symptoms worse and can prevent healing. These medications can also cause allergic rashes, compounding the problem. That said, there are remedies available over-the-counter advertised for sunburn which contain these ingredients, so it's important to read labels.
  • If blisters are present, dry bandages may help prevent infection. Do not puncture blisters as that may slow healing and also increase the risk of infection. You may wish to apply antibiotic cream to the blistered skin.
  • Try over-the-counter medications. Advil (ibuprofen), for example, may help to relieve pain from sunburn. Remember, do not give aspirin to children due to the risk of Reye's syndrome.
  • Do not wash burned skin with harsh soap.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. It is easy to become dehydrated with severe sunburn.
  • Wear loose natural clothing, such as cotton or silk.
  • Watch for any signs of infection, such as increasing redness (keep in mind that your burn will continue to redden for several hours after leaving the sun), fever, increasing pain, or pus-appearing discharge.

Warning Signs of Heat Exhaustion

The symptoms you experience as sunburn may actually be due to other related conditions. Call a healthcare provider immediately if you have signs of heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, or dehydration. These signs include:

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

Cancer and Aging Skin

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 (photoaging), age spots (lentigines), and cataracts. Don't forget to wear sunglasses.

Tips for Preventing Sunburns

An ounce of prevention is clearly worth a pound of cure when it comes to sun exposure and sunburn. What's often forgotten is, that in addition to sunscreen (see below) there are many things you can do to reduce your risk of sunburn.

  • Protect your skin with clothing (loose-fitting clothes made of breathable SPF fabric are ideal)
  • Use an umbrella or a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face
  • Avoid the sun during peak hours, between roughly 10 am and 2 pm

What to Know About Sunscreens

What people really need to know is that grabbing any broad-spectrum sunscreen off the shelf at your pharmacy may not be enough. There are many sunscreen myths, but one that is of special note is the myth that UVA rays are not harmful.

Many sunscreens offer protection against UVB rays, but fewer protect against UVA rays. In the past, we paid little attention to UVA rays, but we now know that UVA rays can be just as dangerous to your skin.

In order to find a sunscreen that will offer you protection against UVA rays, you will need to become familiar with the ingredients that provide UVA protection, and if so, how long-lasting the protection will last.

Bottom Line

Several tips for managing sunburn are noted above, but keep in mind that these are all methods to help you cope with the discomfort of the burn, and do nothing to heal the burn.

Prevention remains the best strategy, but even protection requires that you educate yourself about non-sunscreen methods of sun safety, and the ingredients in a sunscreen that are needed to truly protect yourself from both UVB and UVA rays.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Guerra KC. Sunburn. StatPearls [Internet]. November 2019.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heat-related Illnesses.

  3. National Health Service. Just five sunburns increase your cancer risk. June 2014.

  4. American Cancer Society. Ultraviolet Radiation.

Additional Reading

By Timothy DiChiara, PhD
Timothy J. DiChiara, PhD, is a former research scientist and published writer specializing in oncology.