Treating a Sunburn

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Most of us know about preventing sunburn by diligently applying sunscreen, wearing protective clothing and limiting our time in the sun. But what do you do if you do get a sunburn?

Home remedies for sunburn

While you can't stop the damage to your skin that occurred from the sunburn, or reduce its impact on your chances of skin cancer, there are ways you can soothe your pain.

  • Take over-the-counter ibuprofen.

  • Take a cool shower or use cool clothes on the affected areas. Pat your skin dry or allow your skin to air dry.

  • Use lotions that contain aloe vera (or if you have the plant, break it open and apply the liquid directly to the sunburn).

  • Apply hydrocortisone cream.

  • Apply moisturizing lotion (you can't stop the peeling, but lotion may reduce the itchiness) as often as possible. You can't over-moisturize.

  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration.

  • Wear loose, soft fabrics to avoid irritation. Baggy t-shirts and loose cotton pajama pants work well.

  • Make sure to protect your skin if you are going to get more sun exposure.

  • Use an over-the-counter retinol cream to replenish collagen.

After your sunburn has healed, exfoliate your skin to remove any dead skin cells and to stimulate new growth. Remember to keep moisturizing the area.


If you have blisters, resist breaking them and allow them time to heal. If possible, keep the blisters uncovered. If you must cover them because clothing is rubbing against them, use a loose bandage. Be sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water before touching a blister as it can easily become infected.

Blisters will normally heal on their own--even if they break--but you may want to drain large blisters. To do so safely, disinfect a needle with alcohol or soap and water and gently puncture the blister. Use clean fingers to press the liquid toward the puncture hole until the blister is drained. Then wash the area and cover with a loose bandage. You can use an antibiotic ointment on the blister before putting on the bandage. This helps to prevent infection and will stop the blister from sticking to your skin.

When to See a Doctor

Sunburn can cause slight fevers. However, if you have a fever, along with any of the following, you should contact your doctor:

  • Feeling faint or dizzy

  • Rapid pulse or breathing

  • Clammy or cool skin

  • Chills, nausea or rash

  • Dehydration--extreme thirst, no urine output, sunken eyes

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Severe blisters

As you recover from your sunburn, remind yourself of the importance of preventing sunburn and make sure to take steps to protect yourself from the sun.


"Sunburn," Updated 2011, May 13, Updated by Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D., A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.