How to treat a sunburn

Published April 15th, 2015

Pretty much everyone knows that getting a sunburn is a bad idea.  Aside from being uncomfortable or downright painful, a sunburn accelerates the aging process and increases the risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma.  But occasionally, even to the most cautious people, it can happen.  So what can be done to treat it?


Seek the shade

First and foremost, get out of the sun and into a cool, shady place to prevent any more damage at the first signs of a sunburn.  Unfortunately, the redness and discomfort may not show up until a few hours after the burn. 


Cool down

Cool showers, cool compresses, and slathering on moisturizing creams can help.  Avoid scrubbing the skin.  Eucerin calming cream can often feel soothing.  The moisturizer can be kept in the refrigerator for added benefit.  Taking ibuprofen or aspirin by mouth helps alleviate inflammation and pain.  Remember, kids should never be given aspirin. 



Drink lots of water to re-hydrate.  Headache and dizziness can be a sign of dehydration.  Children can dehydrate easily, so if they seem ill or develop fever, be sure to seek medical attention.  Rarely, IV hydration may be needed.


Relieve the itch

Sunburned skin often feels itchy and tight.  An over the counter hydrocortisone cream can offer some relief.  If it doesn't do enough, a dermatologist can prescribe a stronger cream, or occasionally, oral steroids.  Loose clothing will prevent further irritation of the skin from friction. 


Hands off!

If it's a bad sunburn, blisters may develop.  Avoid picking or peeling blisters or skin, as this can lead to infection.  If many blisters or fever are present, see a physician pronto.


Avoid it

The best way to treat a sunburn is to avoid it in the first place.  Limit time in the sun, wear sun protective clothing (shirts and hats), and slather on the sunscreen every two hours (more often if swimming or sweating).  Remember, we only have one skin: protect it!


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