Most sunburn is painful, sometimes very painful, but only rarely is it harmful or serious enough to require medical attention.
If you are very worried about how bad your sunburn is, we discuss degrees of sunburn here and skin cancers here.
If you think yours is just regular sunburn, or you’re red as a beetroot and waiting for the pain to kick in then read on to understand what your best sunburn remedies are.
Be aware that Sun Stroke is a completely different and far more dangerous condition than sunburn.
And of course you can get both at the same time, though because sunstroke is the same thing as heat stroke you don’t need the sun to get hit by sunstroke.
Think “heat exhaustion” which is very dangerous and immediate.
Fastest Ways to Get Rid of Sunburn
Basic treatments for sunburn
Treating sunburn is a three stage process;
- Soothe – ease your pain
- Cool – stop the pain from getting worse
- Protect – help start the healing process
Sunburn Treatment – Three Stages Method
How to Soothe Sunburn
It is hard to ease the pain of sunburn because your skin needs to move and touch so this will cause pain for the duration of your burn.
There are medicines that reduce your pain somewhat.
But whatever you do there will still be times when you just have to grit your teeth and cope with it.
Cool Bath (not cold)
Water should be slightly cooler than your skin, not icy cold and certainly not warmer than your skin.
You want to take the heat away and reduce the redness.
As soon as you realize you are burned, if you can take a 30 minute cool bath it may reduce the overall effects and duration of your suffering.
Like ice on a regular burn, you want your body to take blood and heat away from your skin, though with sunburn it’s often too late to be long term effective.
Air drying is best (not a hot blow dryer). Air drying will lower your skin temperature even more.
If you can’t air dry then gently dab with a soft fluffy towel, do not rub the skin dry.
If you don’t have a bath then a cool shower is the next best thing, but make certain you use a gentle setting and low temperature.
Big drops hurt less than needle sprays.
Some showers can be set to spray a very fine mist that can also be very soothing and cooling if it is fine enough.
Remember that sunburn pain is delayed effect. While you are in the sun and burning there is no pain.
By the time you come feel pain developing the harm has been done, and over the next 6-12 hours that pain will increase.
If you are in the sun and your skin is feeling a bit tender it is already too late.
Stop now. Don’t stay out until you feel real pain.
Remember that pain will increase for 12 hours and consider if you can handle that.
It is critical that you come out of the sun, apply painkillers and cooling and treatments for sunburn as early as possible to minimize the increasing effects later on.
Cool Sunburned Skin
Your skin feels hot. It is. The redness is due to increased blood supply helping to heal your skin.
So you want to let your skin heal, but you also want to be comfortable and get to sleep at night.
There are many ways of cooling your skin so it feels better.
Cool Bath (not cold)
Repeat whenever the pain is bad and you have the time. Take a good book.
Make sure the water is cooler than your skin, but not so cold that you are uncomfortable.
A cool gentle shower can substitute if necessary, but a bath is better, less painful and more relaxing.
Dab Skin Dry or Air Dry
If you are too sore for these then try cold compresses.
Dabbing cold water with a wet facecloth, or spreading the wet cloth on your burned skin can help cool you down.
Replace the water frequently so that the cloth stays cooler than your skin.
Useful before bed to relax and help you get to sleep
Fans & Air Conditioners
A cool breeze can help. Use a fan to blow cool air onto the exposed skin and can really help relieve pain.
Combine this with cold compresses whenever the pain increases and the evaporating water will bring down your skin temperature.
Fans can be a terrific aid in helping you sleep with sunburn, and we suggest you set the fan on a very low speed.
It may feel too weak while you are awake, but when you sleep your body temperature drops and you’ll feel cold.
To get a better night’s sleep use a low fan setting and light sheets.
Sunburn Aloe Vera
The aloe plant juice has a very good natural cooling effect on your skin.
Many sites suggest you can cut a leaf from an aloe plant and gentle spread the juice over your sunburn…….
If you happen to have an aloe plant handy.
If not then you can buy Aloe Vera lotion easily, preferably plain and unscented.
Buy enough to cover all your burned areas several times a day for the next 3-6 days
Calamine Lotion for Sunburn
Calamine is a bit old fashioned and low cost for many people to suggest it these days, but it really can help reduce pain and relieve itching from sunburn.
It leaves a fine white coating on the skin rather than being absorbed like most modern lotions, which may be one reason it has gone out of favour. It still works well.
Protect Sunburned Skin
You are going to get itchy you will scratch your sunburn. Don’t.
You’re pretty much guaranteed to scratch it at some time and once started you’ll just want to scratch a bit longer and a bit further around …..
Until you’ve done some serious damage to the healing process.
Don’t scratch – moisturize instead. You’ve been told.
Moisturize frequently. You’ll know which areas are worst, and don’t be mean – it’s okay to moisturize these areas every hour.
You should moisturize all burned areas at least 4 times a day for the first 3 -4 days (more on the bad bits) and gradually reduce frequency over the next few days until the peeling has stopped.
How NOT to Treat Sunburn
Even before you can see the sunburn peeling it will be peeling in ways too small for your eyes to see, and it will itch.
Don’t scratch. Don’t pick it or pull the skin off – moisturize instead!
Frequent moisturizing will slow down the peeling and keep the old dead skin in place for longer.
This will give new skin a much better chance of growing in properly, and maybe limit you to a single peel (bad sunburn often peels twice or even three times)
An itchy area is a healing area – so instead of scratching it try moisturizing it instead. Gently rub in some plain unscented lotion.
Don’t rub it in too hard and when it has been absorbed do not keep rubbing and kid yourself you’re not really scratching.
Let the moisturizer do its work.
If you’re still itchy dab a cool wet cloth on the area and to take the heat out of the skin, or apply calamine lotion as well.
After Sun Treatments
There are many after sun lotions and treatments available.
These are basically moisturizers, sometimes with additives to reduce pain, relieve itching, and sometimes with an SPF factor to prevent further sunburn.
High SPF Sunburn Cream
If you’re likely to go outdoors again soon, even covered up, an SPF sun cream is a good idea because UV rays penetrate most clothing (link to UV Clothing??) and you’ll probably be wearing thin, lightweight clothes over your sunburn because of the pain.
So if you’re going outdoors, even covered up, first moisturize, then add a layer of high SPF sunscreen protection to all you’re burned and exposed skin.
Your skin will be very vulnerable for the next week or so after burning so give it all the help and protection you can.
Sunburn Peeling Skin
You are going to peel and you are going to be sore. Don’t make it worse.
Do not pop blisters or pull off your peeling skin as this will increase the risk of infection and you will increase your own pain.
Peeling skin seems like a good idea at the time and friends love to join in for some weird reason.
But when you pull it off it always goes further and exposes raw skin at the edges, skin that wasn’t ready to face the world yet.
Instead you should aim to not peel for as long as possible. Moisturize well and often.
Make it a competition to keep as much of your skin on as you can. You will feel better for it.
If the blisters are very bad or if they feel pressurized so much they will pop on their own then don’t pick them or “pop” them.
But aim to do a sterile, controlled reduction that can keep the skin in place.
Use a sterile needle rubbed in alcohol to make a small hole near an edge.
Then gently push out the liquid and dab it away with a sterile cloth or tissue.
Use alcohol again to dab the empty blister and then moisturize to try and keep the skin in place for as long as possible.
Your aim is to protect the skin underneath until it is ready.
Later, if the blister produces pus or yellowish ooze instead of clear liquid then clean it with a sterile tissue and apply an antibiotic skin cream.
Antibiotic creams are available over the counter in many places
If the pus continues for more than 36 hours then see a doctor for stronger treatments.
Heal Sunburn Fast
How to treat sunburn blisters is easy enough in many cases but if you have sever blistering, headaches, nausea or you are worried that you may require severe sunburn treatment.
Please do seek the advice of a medical professional or visit your nearest A&E unit.
Remember to hydrate a lot while you wait to see these professionals as many sun related problems also leave you dehydrated.
Also, avoid irritating the skin further as you work through these steps.
What to Avoid When You have Sunburn?
- Avoid scented soaps and lotions – unscented is less likely to irritate skin further.
- Avoid petroleum based products where possible, unless you’re certain that they don’t irritate your skin. If in doubt, test them first for 20 minutes on a small area of sunburn that doesn’t hurt too badly.
- Bathing hurts less than showering. If you must shower then use a gentle setting.
- Dabbing and air drying are good while toweling and rubbing will further irritate your skin
- Cool water helps and hot water hurts.
We hope this post has helped you in some small way and that your skin will be back to normal quickly.
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