How to Treat Sunburn
Sunburn is caused by over-exposure to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. While the symptoms are usually temporary (such as red skin that is painful to the touch), the skin damage is often permanent and can have serious long-term health effects, including skin cancer.
Factors that make sunburn more likely
- Infants and children are especially sensitive to the burning effects of the sun.
- People with fair skin are more likely to get sunburn, but even dark and black skin can burn and should be protected.
- The sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The sun's rays are also stronger at higher altitudes and lower latitudes (closer to the tropics). Reflection off water, sand, or snow can intensify the sun's burning rays.
- Sun lamps can cause severe sunburn.
- Some medications (such as the antibiotic doxycycline) can make you more susceptible to sunburn.
The first signs of a sunburn may not appear for a few hours. The full effect to your skin may not appear for 24 hours or longer. Possible symptoms include:
- Red, tender skin that is warm to touch.
- Blisters that develop hours to days later.
- Severe reactions (sometimes called "sun poisoning"), including fever, chills, nausea, or rash.
- Skin peeling on sunburned areas several days after the sunburn.
- Try taking a cool bath or shower. Or place wet, cold wash cloths on the burn for 10 to 15 minutes, several times a day. You can mix baking soda in the water to help relieve the pain. (Small children may become easily chilled, so keep the water tepid.)
- Apply a soothing lotion to the skin.
- Aloe gel is a common household remedy for sunburns. Aloe contains active compounds that help stop pain and inflammation of the skin.
- An over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be helpful. DO NOT give aspirin to children.
- DO NOT apply petroleum jelly, benzocaine, lidocaine, or butter to the sunburn. They make the symptoms worse and can prevent healing.
- DO NOT wash burned skin with harsh soap.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call immediately if there are signs of shock, heat exhaustion, dehydration, or other serious reaction. These signs include:
- Feeling faint or dizzy
- Rapid pulse or rapid breathing
- Extreme thirst, no urine output, or sunken eyes
- Pale, clammy, or cool skin
- Nausea, fever, chills, or rash
- Your eyes hurt and are sensitive to light
- Severe, painful blisters
Above content provided by the National Institutes of Health in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor
Posted June 2013