How to Take the Sting out of Sunburns

A sunburn can be miserable but these tips will help you recover quicker with less pain.  Prevention is always the best cure and like wearing sunscreen, protective clothing and remaining in the shade.  However, once you have been burned there are simple home treatments to help.

Impressive sunburn lines on a woman


The most important tip is to stay hydrated.  This means drinking lots of water, juice and sports drinks.  Do NOT drink alcohol as it is a diuretic.  The sunburned skin loses a lot of water through evaporation and your body requires additional fluids to heal the damaged areas.  Sunburns can often be associated with mild nausea, often relieved by properly hydrating.  Unless you have been advised by your doctor to restrict your fluid intake, most people benefit by doubling their daily amount of liquid.  If you usually drink six glasses of water a day, for a severe sunburn you should be getting around twelve glasses of fluid.  The best way to gauge adequate intake is by monitoring your urine color.  If it appears yellow, you need to drink more water.  In a well-hydrated body the urine should be almost clear.


For discomfort caused by the sunburn, over-the-counter aspirin is usually the best relief for adults.  This medication should be avoided for children under the age of twelve.   For children, ibuprofen or acetaminophen is recommended for pain relief.  As always, follow the directions and warnings on the label.


For immediate relief, aloe vera applied to the skin often helps take away the sting of the burn.  The gel consistency is preferable to thick lotions because the gel allows your skin to properly cool. if you experience any blisters do NOT open them.  They serve as a cushion while the skin under the blister heals.  Be gentle with them and allow them to help your body recover from the burn.  When the blisters open, apply an antibiotic ointment, like bacitracin, to help remain free of infection.  Any foul smell, purulent drainage, increasing pain or redness should be evaluated by your physician.


You may also find relief by using an over-the-counter steroid cream, like 1% hydrocortisone, to help with itching and discomfort.  This cream should only be used for a few days and is only recommended for adults and children over three years of age.  If your child is less than three, and has a sunburn causing discomfort you need to contact your physician.


When else should you call your doctor about a sunburn?  Always call 911 for fainting, changes in vision or seizures.  If your pain or nausea is not controlled with over the counter medications, you should also seek medical attention from your physician.  The greater the area of the sunburn increases the likelihood you may experience more symptoms like nausea, dehydration, headache and even slight fever, thus for large burns you should also seek medical treatment.


It is imperative to avoid direct exposure in the sun while you are healing from a burn.  Be extra careful on cloudy days as the clouds may reflect the light, increasing the sun exposure.  Also be aware of being close to bodies of water or sitting by a metal surface (like a canoe) because they can also increase the sun’s effects as well.   And next time, prevent the burn.  More on sunscreens next week . . .


About the Author:  Dr. Jennifer Hanes is a board certified physician.  She loves helping patients understand their bodies and improve their lives.  She has personally lost seventy pounds, without surgery or pills, and outlines those secrets in her eBook, Lady In Weighting.  You can learn more at

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