How Do I Heal a Sunburn Fast?

Reviewed on 9/8/2021

Home treatment to relieve symptoms of mild to moderate sunburn may include drinking water, topical aloe vera gel, topical moisturizers, cool (not cold) compresses, taking a bath in tepid (not cold) water without soap, over-the-counter pain medications, and topical anesthetics (benzocaine).
Home treatment to relieve symptoms of mild to moderate sunburn may include drinking water, topical aloe vera gel, topical moisturizers, cool (not cold) compresses, taking a bath in tepid (not cold) water without soap, over-the-counter pain medications, and topical anesthetics (benzocaine).

Sunburn is redness and inflammation of the skin that results from overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. A similar type of burn can also occur due to overexposure from a “sun” or tanning lamp. 

About half of adults aged 18 to 29 report having at least one sunburn in the previous year, according to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

How to Get Rid of Sunburns Fast

Home treatment to heal mild to moderate sunburn involves relief of symptoms and may include: 

  • Drink plenty of fluids to help prevent dehydration when in the sun for prolonged periods 
  • Topical aloe vera gel on the sunburned area
  • Topical moisturizers, especially when applied immediately after a shower or bath to help relieve sunburn itch
  • Cool (not cold), damp cloths or compresses applied to the skin to reduce heat and pain
  • Take a bath in tepid (not cold), plain, soap-free water (soap can irritate a sunburn)
    • Gently pat the skin dry with a towel - do not rub it
    • Apply moisturizer immediately after getting out
  • If blisters develop after a sunburn, do not burst or pop them 
    • Most blisters will pop by themselves if left alone
    • Once a sunburn blister breaks, keep the area of the broken blister clean and wash it frequently with soap and water
    • Leave the extra skin flap in place, and continue to clean the wound area until the excess skin falls off
    • Topical antibiotic ointments can be applied to broken blisters to prevent infection
  • Medications 
  • Avoid: 
    • Certain ointments, which may slow healing by sealing off the skin from the air (ask your doctor before applying an ointment to a sunburn)
    • Topical steroid creams because they usually don’t help
    • Oral steroids such as prednisone have not been proven beneficial and are associated with significant side effects

If symptoms of sunburn are severe, contact your doctor or go to a hospital’s emergency department. 

What Are Symptoms of Sunburn?

Symptoms of sunburn can range from mild to severe, depending mainly on:

  • A person’s skin type
  • The time of day, duration, location, and altitude of sun exposure
  • Sunscreen used
  • Medications the person takes that may cause sun sensitivity

The first symptoms of sunburn that occur immediately after exposure include:

  • Skin redness
  • Skin tenderness/irritation
  • Skin feels hot
  • Pain when touching or rubbing the skin 
  • Dehydration, due to fluid loss from the heat

For several days after sun exposure, symptoms of sunburn may include: 

  • Skin swelling
  • Blistering
  • Peeling
  • Itching 
  • Welts or rashes

See a doctor if you have symptoms of severe sunburn. Symptoms of severe sunburn (sun poisoning) include the symptoms above and: 

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dehydration
  • Shock with loss of consciousness
  • Severe blisters or soreness

Cases of severe sunburn may also be associated with heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which is a medical emergency.

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What Causes Sunburn?

Sunburn is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. A similar type of burn can also occur due to overexposure from a “sun” or tanning lamp that also produces UV radiation. 

Certain medications (called photosensitive drugs) can increase skin sensitivity to sunlight and make a person more prone to sunburn, such as: 

Some medical conditions that increase the risk of skin damage, including severe sunburn, blisters, and sores, from exposure to UV radiation include: 

How Do You Prevent Sunburn?

Preventing sunburn can also reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. To help reduce the chance of developing sunburn: 

  • Limit sun exposure and avoid the peak sunshine hours between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the rays are strongest 
  • Wear protective clothing such as a wide-brimmed hat, UV protected sunglasses, and lightweight long pants and long-sleeved shirts 
  • The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone use sunscreen 
    • SPF 30 or higher
    • Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays)
    • Water resistant
  • Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outdoors and reapply at least every two hours, or after swimming or sweating, according to the directions on the bottle
  • Use lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher
  • Avoid tanning beds and sun lamps
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated 
  • Remember
    • Sunburn can even occur on cloudy days (clouds don't block ultraviolet rays), and when you are in the water
    • Sand, water, and snow reflect the sun's rays and increase the chance of sunburn while on the beach or when in the snow, such as when skiing

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Reviewed on 9/8/2021
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/sunburn?search=sunburn&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/sunexposure/sunburn.html

https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/sunscreen-patients/sunscreen-faqs