Tips for Treating a Sunburn

By Alison Lowe, MD May 24, 2019 No Comments

treating sunburns

Summer is here, which typically means more time being spent outdoors at the lake, pool, or parks. However, care should always be taken to avoid overexposure to the sun.

Sunburns are caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, resulting in the immediate development of redness and pain on exposed skin. Itchiness and peeling of the skin typically occur a few days later. Although sunburns seem like a temporary condition, each sunburn can damage the skin, cause early onset aging symptoms like lines and wrinkles, and increase a person’s risk of developing skin cancer.

The best way to treat a sunburn is to avoid getting burnt in the first place! Make sure to practice safe sun protection by using a broad-spectrum high SPF sunscreen daily (even on cloudy days), avoid the outdoors during peak UV hours, and wear sun protective clothing while outdoors. It’s also extremely important to reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes when outdoors.

If you do develop a sunburn there are a few ways to help minimize the post-burn discomfort and help the skin heal. Here are some great tips for treating a sunburn:

(Note: Severe sunburns, where the sufferer experiences issues like flu-like symptoms, headaches, nausea, weakness, or blistering of the skin should be treated by a professional. Individuals with a severe sunburn should see a primary care physician or dermatologist right away.)

Tips for Treating a Sun Burn

  1. Get Indoors: Get out of the sun (preferably go indoors) as soon as you notice a sunburn. Minimizing further UV exposure is key to limiting the severity of the burn.
  2. Take Ibuprofen: Taking an ibuprofen like Advil will help minimize pain, redness, and swelling while also limiting long-term skin damage. Make sure to use as directed on the product label.
  3. Stay Hydrated: Sunburns dehydrate the body. Dehydration can both increase the post-burn discomfort and lengthen the skin’s natural healing process. Make sure to drink extra water and avoid alcohol in the days following a sunburn.
  4. Take 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. Use a gentle cleanser and refrain from scrubbing the skin.
  5. Apply Cold Compress: Intermittently apply a cold damp towel to your skin in 15-minute increments for the first few days post-burn. This will help ease any discomfort and dryness.
  6. Moisturize: Use a high-quality moisturizer that contains skin soothing ingredients like aloe vera or soy immediately after bathing. Moisturizers containing antioxidants like vitamin C or vitamin E can also help nourish and protect the skin from further damage. Instead of a heavy cream, choose a gel or lotion moisturizer as it will better allow the skin to breathe.
  7. Don’t Pop Blisters: Refrain from touching or popping any sunburn-caused skin blisters, as these actions can result in a skin infection.
  8. Use Hydrocortisone: If your skin becomes itchy, use a 1% hydrocortisone product to help with itching, irritation, and dryness of the skin. Scratching sunburn affected skin can cause additional sun damage and could result in a skin infection.

Alison Lowe, MD

Alison Lowe, M.D. completed her doctorate of medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where she graduated with the distinction of Magna Cum Laude. Dr .Lowe is Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology and is active in various medical organizations, including the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Society of Dermatology, the Texas Dermatological Society, the Texas Medical Association, and the Travis County Medical Society. She currently sees patients at our Lakeway location.


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