A person on the beach applying sunscreen to their shoulder to avoid getting a sunburn


How to treat a sunburn: Tips to stop the pain and start the healing.

  • Get medical care for a sunburn that causes blistering on more than 20 percent of your body.
  • A sunburn draws water away from other parts of the body toward your skin. Drink water to help the healing.
  • Oatmeal is a natural anti-inflammatory. Add it to a cool bath for a soothing soak.

Summer is the time for cookouts, beach trips—and sunburn. If your skin is unprotected, it can take only a few minutes to burn. But don’t worry: when you know how to treat sunburns, you can find many ways to soothe the sting. In this article, we’ll explore home remedies and prevention tips to restore your skin and ease the pain.

What to do for instant relief from a sunburn

To start the healing and relieve the pain, take action as soon as you notice that your skin is burned. The key is to lower your skin’s temperature and prevent further damage. Here’s what you should do right away:

  1. Get out of the sun immediately. Find some shade, go indoors, or at least cover your exposed skin with clothing, an umbrella or anything else that will block the sun.
  2. Hydrate. A sunburn draws water away from other parts of the body toward your skin. Drink plenty of water—right away and for a few days after—to avoid becoming dehydrated.   
  3. Take a cold shower or bath. While it might sting a little, a brief cold shower will lower the temperature of your skin and reduce inflammation.

When to see a doctor for sunburn

Most sunburns are first-degree burns, which cause redness and pain—and you can usually treat them at home. If you spent an extended time in the sun, you might have a second-degree burn, which causes blisters. Get medical care if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Blistering on more than 20 percent of your body
  • Fainting or weakness
  • High fever, headache, dehydration, confusion or nausea
  • Skin infection
  • Sunburn doesn’t respond to treatment

Need medical treatment for your sunburn? Get care now.

How to treat sunburn symptoms

  • Blisters. Apply cold compresses or moisturizer. Do not break open any blisters intentionally—this can cause infection. If a blister does break open, clean the area with mild soap and water. Then apply an antibiotic ointment and cover the area with gauze.
  • Itching. Try to avoid scratching the itch, as this will delay healing and could lead to a skin infection. Try a one percent hydrocortisone cream or take an antihistamine.
  • Pain and stinging. Take aspirin or ibuprofen and avoid exposing the skin to further sun damage.
  • Hot skin. If your skin is hot to the touch, take frequent cool showers and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Peeling skin. Treat your skin gently and don’t pick or pull at the peeling skin. Apply a moisturizer such as aloe vera.

Home remedies for sunburn

  • Cold compresses. Apply a clean, lint-free cold towel or washcloth several times a day for 10-15 minutes.
  • Vinegar. Cider vinegar can promote healing and restore pH balance. To use this, add one cup of cider vinegar to a bath.
  • Essential oils. Peppermint, lavender, chamomile and tea tree oil can all reduce inflammation and cool your skin—but make sure to dilute the essential oils with a “carrier” oil such as almond oil, or add the essential oils to a moisturizer such as aloe vera.
  • Oatmeal. Oatmeal is a natural anti-inflammatory. You can make a paste of oatmeal and cold milk and apply it to your skin or add oatmeal to a cool bath and soak in it.
  • Coconut oil. This multi-purpose oil is rich in natural fats like linoleic and lauric acids, which have moisturizing and antimicrobial properties. It’s best for later in the healing process to keep skin hydrated.
  • Aloe vera. Aloe contains chemicals that have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Make sure you use 100% aloe products to soothe your sunburn.
  • Witch hazel. Witch hazel applied to the skin can provide anti-inflammatory relief.
  • Cucumbers. These cool veggies are a natural antioxidant and analgesic (pain reliever). You can chill cucumbers, mash them in a blender and apply the paste to your skin.
  • Shaving cream. Shaving cream with menthol can soothe mild sunburn. Apply a thin layer to the affected area, let dry for 30 minutes and rinse.

Healing a sunburn

Here’s what to expect as your sunburn heals:

  • How long does it take to heal a sunburn? The worse the burn, the longer it takes to heal. A mild sunburn will usually heal in a few days, while a severe sunburn with blisters may take weeks to clear up.
  • What does a healing sunburn look like? For a mild sunburn, healing skin will gradually lose the pink or red color and return to normal. With a moderate sunburn, the outer layer of skin may also peel away. For a more severe sunburn, you may see blisters that will fade over time (don’t pop them intentionally!).

Sunburn prevention tips

Knowing how to treat a sunburn is important. Knowing how to prevent it is even better. Sunburn isn’t just painful—it also raises your risk of developing skin cancer and accelerates wrinkling. Here are some simple steps to protect your skin:

  • Avoid the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when ultraviolet rays are strongest.
  • Do not use tanning beds.
  • Cover up with hats, long sleeves, pants and umbrellas for sun protection.
  • Use sunscreen with at least 15-30 SPF. Remember to replenish sunscreen every 2 hours or after swimming, and don't forget to protect your lips. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside—even if it is overcast. For answers to other common sunscreen questions, click here.

Don’t let sunburn spoil your summer fun. By protecting your skin from sun exposure, you can prevent sunburn from happening in the first place. And if you overdo it in the sun—or miss a spot when applying sunscreen—the tips above can help you stop the pain and start the healing


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