Feeling The Burn: How To Care For A Sunburn

Written by WD Staff, Skin Care Specialists on February 16, 2016 5 Comments

treat sun burn
You’ve likely heard it before. Studies show that every time you burn you dramatically increase your chances for developing skin cancer. Even a seemingly mild sunburn can result in serious damage and aging of the skin over the long term.

Obviously sunburns should be avoided at all cost, but at one point in time most people mistakenly forget to reapply sunscreen after swimming or simply stay out in the sun for too long. Here’s some information on sunburns including steps to minimize painful symptoms and shorten recovery times.

Sunburn Basics

Sunburns are caused after the skin has been overexposed to UVA and UVB rays from the sun. The body tries to protect itself by producing excess melanin (skin pigmentation that results in tanning). Continued radiation exposure past the point of tanning results in sunburn.

The time in which it takes a person to burn can depend on many factors including time of day, intensity of the sun, the individual’s skin type/tone, and the length of time spent outside. It is important to realize that you can still get a sunburn on overcast days, as 80% of UV rays will still penetrate through the clouds.

Mild vs. Severe Sunburns

Sunburns can be categorized as being mild or severe. Mild sunburns result in the skin immediately red and painful with itchiness and peeling occurring days later. Individuals with severe sunburn can suffer additional issues like flu-like symptoms, headaches, nausea, weakness, and blistering of the skin. Severe sunburns may need professional treatment, in which case it’s advised that you see your primary care physician or dermatologist right away.

However, mild sunburns can be addressed at home. Here is a great step-by-step guide to caring for mild sunburn:

1. Ibuprofen: Take ibuprofen (such as Bayer or Advil) immediately after your sun exposure. The anti-inflammatory benefits of ibuprofen will minimize redness and swelling while also preventing long term skin damage. Continue taking the recommended amount of ibuprofen over the next 48 hours and make sure to stay well hydrated.

2. Cool Baths: Hopping in a cool shower or bath will help to sooth the skin and take your body temperature down to its normal level. When you take a bath, make sure to not scrub your skin or use an irritating cleanser but rather go with a mild cleanser and just use your hands to lightly clean the skin.

3. Moisturize: Immediately after bathing, use a high quality moisturizer to rehydrate your skin. Products containing Aloe Vera, vitamin C, or vitamin E are especially helpful as they nourish the skin and protect it from further damage. Use a gel or lotion rather than heavier cream moisturizers, as this will allow the skin to better breathe.

4. Hydrocortisone: If your skin becomes itchy, use a 1% hydrocortisone product to help with itching, irritation, and dryness of the skin.

5. Practice better sun protection next time: Make a promise to yourself to never get sunburned again and back it up by practicing proper sun protection. Wear a high quality broad-spectrum sunscreen, refrain from or limit being out in the sun during peak UV times (usually between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm), and consider wearing sun protective clothing while staying outdoors.


WD Staff

A united group of skin care specialists from Westlake Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery, Austin's leader in Dermatology and Plastic Surgery. Articles posted under WD staff are authored through combined contributions from our entire team, including Plastic Surgeons, Dermatologists, Aestheticians, Physician Assistants, Aesthetic Nurses, and Patient Coordinators.

5 Responses to “Feeling The Burn: How To Care For A Sunburn”

  1. Avatar Jordan says:

    Great tips here. Getting a nice tan can be fun, but it’s important to protect your skin and know what to do if you get burned! Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Avatar Kellie says:

    Just coming off a bad burn, the worst 🙂

  3. Avatar Gabriel says:

    just in time for summer lol

  4. Avatar Zack says:

    Great topic and post, very helpful!!!!

  5. Avatar George says:

    Great post, really good info! Thanks and keep up the great work!

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