woman with sunburn

How to Treat a Sunburn

No matter how careful we try to be, sometimes the sun gets the best of us. Sunburn can be unsightly and very, very painful. If you’re suffering from too much sun, here’s how to treat sunburn after the fact.

Get out of the sun. Maybe this goes without saying, but if you have sunburned skin, avoid the sun until it’s healed. 

Drink extra water. Getting a sunburn is very dehydrating, so up your water intake and avoid alcohol and excessive caffeine, which can dehydrate the body.  

Cool down the skin. Use a cold compress for 10 or 15 minutes at a time a few times a day to cool the skin. Make it with plain water or try green tea, which contains skin-soothing compounds. Another alternative is a short, cool bath or shower.

Moisturize. Use non-irritating, fragrance-free, non-petroleum-based moisturizers to nourish the skin. Aloe vera is the classic go-to, but there are plenty of other after-sun formulations to try that are designed to treat sunburn and heal the skin.

Take medicine for the pain. Bad sunburn can be very painful for a couple days, but ibuprofen can help, as can 1% OTC hydrocortisone cream applied to the burn up to three times a day. The key is to start soon after the sunburn occurs.

Leave peeling skin alone. Some burns are bad enough to lead to peeling and blistering. As unpleasant and unsightly as it is, it’s important to LEAVE IT ALONE. Peeling or popping those blisters can lead to infection and scarring. Just let your skin heal on its own and avoid the temptation to pick.

Skip these home remedies. You may have heard of putting toothpaste, butter, or Vaseline on a burn to help it heal. Don’t. These not only don’t help sunburn, they can actually prolong it.

Watch out for these signs that require medical attention. Most of the time, you can treat sunburn at home, but go to the ER or urgent care if you experience the following along with your burn:

  • Blisters over large parts of the body
  • Severe pain
  • Nausea or vomiting

Likewise, go to the ER or urgent care if you see these signs of heat stroke, aka sunstroke, which occurs when the body becomes overheated:

  • Not sweating when you should be – this is the #1 sign
  • Skin is hot and dry to the touch
  • Dizziness and/or confusion
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shallow breathing

Sunstroke is a serious condition that can lead to seizures and organ failure if not treated, so if in doubt, go to the ER.

Give it time. A mild burn may need just a day or two to fade away but a bad burn can take 10 days to two weeks to heal. Give your skin time to heal itself and in the meantime, you might want to shop online for some sunblock!

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