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What are the Different Treatments for Sunburn?

By N. Swensson
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Despite extensive cautionary information about avoiding it, almost every person has experienced sunburn. Forgetting to apply sunscreen, not properly using it, or spending too much time in the sun can result in red, burned, and irritated skin. Very severe sunburns can be quite painful and may also be accompanied by skin blistering and even headaches. Treatments for sunburn focus on alleviating the pain by cooling and moisturizing the skin. In some cases, pain relievers may also help.

Usually, sunburn can be prevented by wearing sunscreen and protective clothing or by simply staying out of the sun. But sometimes sun exposure is inevitable, and people apply sunscreen but don't reapply soon enough or at all. Other times they may just forget or mistakenly think protection is unnecessary. A sunburn may not be noticed until several hours or a day after sun exposure. Then the skin will be red, itchy, and painful and sometimes covered with blisters. Sometimes sunburn can also cause swelling, especially on the lips or face.

One of the most common treatments for sunburn is a cool bath or compresses to soothe the skin. Be careful about adding anything to the water, such as bath salts or bubbles, that may cause more irritation. A compress of milk and water or Burow's solution, which can be purchased in drugstores, may also help with symptoms. After the bath, a lotion can be applied, but it should not contain any perfumes or harsh ingredients. Lotions or gels that contain aloe vera may be especially helpful treatments for sunburn. Products that contain alcohol could dry the skin and cause further irritation.

Some products that contain topical anesthetics claim to be beneficial as treatments for sunburn, but they can actually worsen the condition in some cases and may not be very effective. Other pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be more useful, especially if swelling is a problem. Follow the package instructions when taking these medications.

Other treatments for sunburn involve allowing the skin to heal on its own. If there are blisters, do not break them, as this can lead to longer healing time and possible infection. Also, after a few days or a week, the burned skin may start to peel, which is the body's way of removing the damaged layers. Continue to apply a moisturizing lotion and allow the skin to come off on its own. Using exfoliation products or rubbing off the peeling skin might remove too many layers and slow the healing process.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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