Sunburn (Sun Poisoning)

  • Medical Author:
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What first-aid measures should be taken with sunburn?

If symptoms of severe sunburn are present, the individual should contact their doctor, urgent care facility, or emergency department. If compresses are applied, they should be dipped in cool or tepid water, not cold water.

If the symptoms of sunburn are mild or moderate, the person should drink plenty of water to replenish the fluid lost from the sunburn and to avoid dehydration. Other simple home remedies for sunburn are listed in the following sections.

What is the treatment for sunburn?

Most of the treatments available to treat sunburn are only used to treat symptoms.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in oral (ibuprofen, Motrin, Naprosyn, Advil etc.) or topical diclofenac 0.1% gel (Solaraze) forms have shown to reduce redness if applied before or immediately after UVB exposure. This benefit may be diminished after 24 hours. These medications may also help relieve the symptoms of sunburn such as pain and discomfort.

Topical steroid creams may not help. Oral steroids such as prednisone also have not been proven beneficial and have been associated with some significant side effects.

Applying aloe Vera gel to the skin may be beneficial in treating the symptoms.

Other remedies such as topical anesthetics (benzocaine) may help relieve painful symptoms of sunburn. Also, topical OTC moisturizer creams (especially if applied right after a shower or bath) can be used to alleviate the sunburn itch.

If you get a significant sunburn during pregnancy contact your doctor to decide what treatments are safe for use.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/17/2015

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