UPDATED: Mar 26, 2020
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Ouch! You forgot your sunscreen, didn’t apply enough or missed a spot. Either way, it hurts. Unfortunately, there’s no fast-fix sunburn treatment. Once you have the sunburn, the damage is done. But there are ways to alleviate the pain. Use the methods below to ease your discomfort.
Keep it Cool.
Apply cold compresses such as a towel dampened with cool water to the affected skin. Or take a cool bath. Set the water to a temperature that’s just below lukewarm and relax for 10 to 20 minutes. The temperature will ease the pain, and the water will stop your skin from becoming as irritated. Repeat as often as you need to.
Keep it Moist.
Apply aloe or moisturizing cream to the affected skin. Avoid products containing alcohol, which can further dry out skin. When you no longer have open blisters or the redness of the sunburn has subsided a bit, treat your damaged skin to some TLC. Liberally apply a creamy, unscented moisturizer to sunburned areas over the next few days or weeks to prevent peeling and irritation.
Leave Blisters Intact.
If blisters form, don’t break them. You’ll only slow the healing process and increase the risk of infection. Consider using an antibiotic ointment (such as polymyxin B or bacitracin) on your blisters if you suspect infection. Infection might manifest as a foul smell, yellow pus, or increased redness and irritation around the skin. After you’ve applied aloe vera or ointment to the area, put a bandage over it to prevent chafing against your clothes or anything else.
Take an Over-the-Counter Pain Reliever
If nothing seems to alleviate the pain caused by your sunburn, you may feel the need to take medicine to help with the symptoms. Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory that reduces swelling, treats pain and lowers a fever or high temperature.
Treat Peeling Skin Gently.
Within a few days, the affected area may begin to peel. This is simply your body’s way of getting rid of the top layer of damaged skin. While your skin is peeling, continue to use moisturizing cream.
Sunburns can be dehydrating, so it’s important to counterbalance this by drinking a lot of water while you recover. Aim for eight or more glasses of water each day. Stick to drinking plain water and avoid alcohol because this will dehydrate you further.
Consult a doctor if:
- Severe sunburn covers a large portion of your body with blisters
- Sunburn is accompanied by a high fever or severe pain
- Severe sunburn doesn’t begin to improve within a few days
To prevent future episodes of sunburn, use sunscreen frequently and liberally. Select a product that provides protection against both UVA and UVB radiation with an SPF of at least 15. Sunburn can increase your chance of melanoma, which in turn can affect your chance of qualifying for term life insurance. Be sure to cover up while you’re outdoors, and stay in the shade as much as possible.