Simple Tips on How to Heal a Sunburn

Sunburn skin on back

Summertime means fun in the sun, and it also means an increased potential for sunburn. If your skin is left unprotected in the sun, it might take only a few minutes to burn. You should always take the proper precautions before any outdoor activity in order to protect your skin from burning. Preventing sunburn can be done with proper planning, sun protection, and sunscreen use. If sunburn occurs anyway, treatment options exist to help minimize the damage and help the sunburn heal more quickly with less discomfort.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) provides tips from dermatologists to treat sunburn quickly and encourage healing on their website. If sunburn happens despite taking steps to prevent it, it is wise to have a plan in place for treating and healing sunburn before the summer.

If you have been out in the sun too long without sunscreen or sun protection, particularly if you have lighter-colored skin, you will likely get a sunburn. Here are simple tips on how to heal a sunburn.

Treat Sunburn Immediately

It is important to treat sunburn as soon as you notice it. This might even be while you are still outside. The first step in healing a sunburn is getting out of the sun immediately. Get indoors to prevent further burning and damage to your skin.

Then, take a cool shower or bath to relieve the burning. The AAD recommends that once you get out of the shower or bath, pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Then apply a moisturizer, preferably one that contains aloe vera, in order to trap the moisture in your skin.

If your burn continues to hurt or is uncomfortable, you may want to apply 1% hydrocortisone cream, which you can buy without a prescription. If you are able to see your board-certified dermatologist promptly, a higher potency prescription applied within a few hours of the burn can actually decrease DNA damage, redness, pain and blistering. Steroid needs to be applied within 3-6 hours of the sunburn to really help reduce inflammation and damage.

Continue to take cool baths or showers until the sunburn is no longer hot or uncomfortable.

Take a Pain-Reliever

Take ibuprofen as directed to help relieve the pain and reduce the swelling or redness of a sunburn.

Drink Extra Water

Sunburn draws fluid to the skin surface and away from the rest of the body. It is essential to prevent dehydration by drinking extra water after a sunburn. The additional hydration will also aid in the sunburn healing process.

Allow Blisters to Heal

Mild sunburns typically will not blister, but blistering is normal for severe sunburns. If blisters form on your sunburn, then it is recommended that you leave them alone and allow them to heal on their own. Blisters help prevent infection and allow new epidermis to form beneath the fluid, so let them do their job.

You can continue to take cool baths or showers to help blisters heal. You can also apply a cold compress to the blistered areas, but do so gently to prevent breaking the blisters.

Leave Peeling Skin Alone

As your skin heals from a sunburn, it might peel or flake. It is important to treat your peeling skin gently with aloe vera lotion. Leave the skin alone to heal on its own and do not peel the skin yourself.

Wear Protective Clothing

It is important to protect sunburned skin from further damage and irritation while it heals. Wear protective clothing over the sunburn when you go outside. Tightly-woven fabrics with an SPF rating work best to protect sunburned skin from further damage.

When to See a Doctor

Some sunburns are severe enough to warrant medical attention. Seek medical attention for sunburns if:

  • Blisters cover a large area
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Infection
  • Fainting or weakness

How long does a sunburn take to heal?

The more severe the sunburn, the longer it will take to heal. A mild to moderate sunburn will take a few days to heal; a more severe sunburn can take weeks to heal.

Don’t let a sunburn ruin your summer. Do your best to protect your skin in the sun with the proper clothing and sunscreen. But if you do miss a spot, follow the above tips to heal your sunburn quickly so that you can get back outdoors safely, as soon as possible.