Soothe Your Sunburn

Laura Mitchell's picture
By Laura Mitchell on June 23, 2016

Maybe you left the sunscreen at home. Or maybe you went for a swim and didn’t reapply it. Or—a common oversight—you didn’t realize how long you were working in the garden. Well, the yard looks great but you ended up with a bad sunburn.

These tips and remedies from the Skin Cancer Foundation can help ease the pain and speed healing. Drape a cool, damp towel around your pink shoulders and read on:

Cool It
Water is the easiest and most immediate remedy for sunburned skin. A cool, wet towel is welcome relief from the pulsing heat. Place a damp towel over your sunburn for 10 minutes or so several times a day. Don’t be afraid to use ice; just don’t put the ice directly on your skin.

Besides water, topical astringents such as witch hazel (directly on skin) or apple cider vinegar (add a cup to cool bathwater) act as anti-inflammatories and can minimize swelling while temporarily relieving discomfort.

A fan blowing directly on your skin can help lower your body temperature, too. Cool air can also help you sleep, which can be uncomfortable otherwise. Rest is a key component of healing, so switch on that fan!

Lube It
Combat the drying effects of sunburn with a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy. Aloe cools your skin and relieves pain. If your sunburn is particularly bad, use a hydrocortisone cream.

If your skin is too tender for rubbing in lotion, try an aerosol hydrocortisone or aloe product. Just be sure to avoid your face and eyes when applying.

Don’t forget to lube your insides too. Sunburn can be dehydrating, so drink extra water and eat refreshing foods like melons and berries.

Elevate It
If your feet are burned, prop them up above the level of your heart to help minimize swelling. This will require you to sit back and relax—which is also a good remedy for sunburn!

Ibuprofen is another option to minimize swelling, with the added benefit of temporarily reducing pain.

Watch It
Monitor but don’t pop blisters. They are your body’s way of preparing the next layer of skin to replace what’s been damaged. Give them the time to do their work. Take extra care to protect sunburned skin while it heals. If a blister should pop, keep it clean and use an ointment like petrolatum to help guard against infection. Also avoid further sun exposure and injury while the sunburn is healing.

"Consider visiting a medical provider if there is significant pain or blisters covering a large portion of the affected area," recommended Philip Wakefield, M.D., of Carilion Clinic Dermatology.

And don’t hesitate to call your doctor if your symptoms escalate.

"If there is no improvement following treatment at home within 48 hours or there is a possibility of an infection, seek medical care," said Dr. Wakefield.

Nausea, chills, fever and light-headedness are all reasons to call your doctor. 

Plan It
Finally, remember that sunburns cause damage to the skin and can increase the risk of skin cancer. So invest in your skin's future: Prepare for the next time you enjoy the outdoors by purchasing in advance and using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, sun-protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.