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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Sun-Damaged Skin: Pictures of Sun Spots, Wrinkles, Sunburns

Are there any home remedies to treat sunburn?

There are some simple measures that can be applied at home to help with sunburns. The easiest and most important remedy to sunburn is using effective preventative measures to avoid sunburn. These steps include:

  • Do not spend too much time in the sun, especially in direct sunlight in the middle of the day.
  • Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirt, a hat with a large brim, and use sunscreen.
  • Drink water to keep hydrated while spending time in the sun.

Once sunburn occurs, there are sunburn remedies that can help with treating the itching and burning sunburn symptoms. These include:

  • Apply dampened cloths or compresses to reduce the heat and lessen the pain
  • Soak in a bathtub of tepid, plain, soap-free water (soap can irritate the burn).
  • Gently pat the skin dry afterward - do not rub it
  • Apply a soothing cream, lotion, or another preparation approved by a physician or pharmacist
    • Some preparations, in particular those containing benzocaine (Endocaine, Hurricaine), can trigger an allergic reaction in some individuals, and certain ointments can slow healing by sealing off the skin from the air.
  • If the discomfort is significant, take an OTC painkiller such as acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, PediaCare Fever, and others).
  • These medications also can be used to treat headache or body ache associated with sunburn. Headache may be caused by dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids (no caffeine or alcohol) to prevent dehydration while out in the sun for prolonged periods of time.
  • Moisturize with creams or aloe Vera gel may also help with symptoms of sunburn.

If blisters form after sunburn, do not attempt to burst or "pop" them unless they are located in a very painful area, or are otherwise causing a lot of discomfort due to size. Most blisters will break by themselves if they are left alone. Blisters are better left uncovered as rubbing or placing a tight cover over them may cause infections and more discomfort. If blisters need to be covered because they cause discomfort by rubbing on clothes, use a loosely applied dressing.

Once a sunburn blister breaks, the area of the broken blister should be kept clean by washing it frequently with soap and water. The left over skin should be left alone, but cleaned, until it falls off. Broken blisters generally heal on their own, but topical antibiotic ointments should be applied to the area of broken blisters to prevent infections.

If a sun blister is uncomfortable or too large or located in a cosmetically unappealing area, consider breaking it carefully. This could be done by gently cleaning the area well with soap and water or rubbing alcohol and using a sterilized needle to punch a hole at the edge of the blister gently. The fluid inside can be pushed towards the hole and drained. The area should be cleaned again and covered with a loose dressing afterwards. Topical antibiotics can be applied to the broken blister to reduce the risk of infection.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/17/2015

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