Sunburn First Aid Tips: How to Treat Sunburn at Home?

Skin can burn if it gets too much sun without proper protection from sunscreen and clothes. It is crucial to treat sunburn with first aid as soon as you notice it to help heal and soothe stinging skin. Although it may seem like a temporary medical condition, it can cause long-lasting damage to the skin. This damage increases a person’s risk of skin cancer, making it critical to protect the skin from the sun.

First aid treatment for sunburn is essential to alleviate discomfort and help your skin heal. Here are the steps to provide effective first aid for sunburn:

  1. Get Out of the Sun: The first thing to do when you notice sunburn is to get out of the sun immediately. Further exposure can worsen the burn.
  2. Cool Down: Take a cool shower or bath to soothe your skin. Avoid using hot water, as it can make the burn worse. If a shower isn't possible, use a clean, cool, damp cloth to gently pat your skin.
  3. Moisturize: After the initial cool-down, apply a moisturizing lotion or cream to lock in moisture. Avoid lotions with alcohol, which can be drying.
  4. Over-the-Counter Pain Relief: If your sunburn is painful, consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or aspirin. Follow the dosage instructions on the label.
  5. Consult a Doctor: If your sunburn is severe, covers a large area, blisters, or if you experience symptoms like fever or chills, seek medical attention. Severe sunburn may require professional treatment.


1. Get Out of the Sun

Sunburn occurs when your skin has been exposed to the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays for an extended period. The first step in treating sunburn is to minimize further exposure to these rays. When you notice sunburn, immediately seek shade or head indoors to prevent further sun exposure. Prolonged exposure can worsen the burn and increase discomfort.


2. Cool Down

Take a cool (not cold) shower or bath. The cool water helps reduce skin temperature and provides instant relief. Avoid using hot water, as it can irritate the skin further. If a shower isn't available, use a clean, cool, damp cloth to gently pat your skin.

Cool Baths for Pain

Use cool, wet washcloths on the sunburned area several times daily to reduce pain and burning. For more extensive burns, give cool baths for 10 minutes. You can add 2 ounces of baking soda per tub. Do not use soap on sunburn.


3. Moisturize

After cooling down, apply a moisturizing lotion or cream to your skin. Look for products that contain ingredients like ceramides or hyaluronic acid to help lock in moisture. Avoid lotions with alcohol, as they can be drying to the skin.

Steroid Cream to Relieve Pain

Sunburn can be excruciating. However, covering it with cream can give great relief. When you have sunburn, use 1% hydrocortisone cream as soon as possible. Put it on three times per day to reduce swelling and pain. If you don’t have steroid cream at home, use a moisturizing cream or aloe vera cream as an alternative until you can get some. Avoid putting ointments on red skin because they can block the sweat glands.

Apply Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is a natural remedy for sunburn. Apply pure aloe vera gel or a lotion containing aloe vera to the affected areas. Aloe vera has soothing and anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce redness and provide relief from the burning sensation.


4. Over-the-Counter Pain Relief

If your sunburn is causing pain, consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or aspirin. Follow the dosage instructions on the label and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or are taking other medications.

For sunburns that are particularly painful or itchy, an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream may provide relief. Follow the instructions on the product label and consult a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.

Ibuprofen to Reduce Pain and Other Symptoms

Ibuprofen is a drug that can block inflammatory reactions of the skin. As a result, it can reduce the redness and swelling. But, it needs to be started early. The redness is often not seen until 4 hours after sun exposure, and the pain and redness keep worsening. So if you think you got too much sun, take ibuprofen immediately to reduce pain and other symptoms. Don’t wait for redness; take it three times per day for two days.


5. Consult a Doctor

If your sunburn is severe, covers a large area of your body, blisters, or if you experience symptoms like fever, chills, nausea, or confusion, seek medical attention promptly. Severe sunburn may require professional treatment, including prescription medications and specialized care.



What is Sunburn?

Sunburn refers to the damage to the outermost layers of skin after getting too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun. It appears as reddening, inflammation, and tenderness of the skin and usually occurs between 12 and 24 hours after the exposure. Sunburns can develop into blistering and skin peeling . It's a sign that your body is trying to shed its damaged skin cells and shedding the outer layer of skin. You may also experience headaches, fever, or nausea with severe sunburn. It's important to seek immediate medical attention if you are sunburned and experience:

  • Confusion
  • An infection in the sunburned area
  • Dehydration


Severity of Sunburn

The severity of sunburns is categorized based on skin damage. The two most common types of sunburn are First degree burn and second-degree burn . However, taking medicines that makes you more sensitive to UV rays or if you fall asleep in the sun for hours near the equator can lead to a third-degree sunburn.


  • First-degree sunburn: It damages your skin's outer layer. Most sunburns are first-degree burn that turns the skin pink or red. This sunburn usually heals in a few days to a week.
  • Second-degree sunburn: Prolonged sun exposure can cause blistering and a second-degree burn (damage to the inner layer of your skin). This type of sunburn can take weeks to heal and may need medical treatment.
  • Third-degree sunburn: In rare cases, severe sunburn can cause a third-degree burn or scarring. This sunburn severely damages all layers of your skin, including the fat layer beneath the skin. In addition, it may destroy nerve endings and requires emergency treatment.

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What are the Causes of Sunburn?

Aside from direct exposure to the sun, 70% of UV light still gets through clouds. The intensity of UV rays is affected by the time of day, cloud coverage, altitude, and closeness to the equator. Your chance of sunburn increases depending on your time in the sun, certain medications you take, ozone depletion, where you are in the world, your skin type, and pigmentation. Here are the key factors that contribute to sunburn:

  • UVB and UVA Radiation: There are two types of UV radiation from the sun that contribute to sunburn: UVB (ultraviolet B) and UVA (ultraviolet A). UVB rays are primarily responsible for causing sunburn, as they penetrate the outermost layer of the skin (the epidermis) and trigger the body's defense mechanisms, resulting in inflammation. UVA rays, while less likely to cause sunburn, can penetrate deeper into the skin and contribute to premature aging and the development of skin cancer.
  • Intensity of Sunlight: Sunburn is more likely to occur during the peak hours of sunlight, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The sun's rays are most intense during this time, increasing the risk of UV exposure and sunburn.
  • Geographical Location: Your risk of sunburn can vary depending on your geographical location and proximity to the equator. Areas closer to the equator receive more direct sunlight, making sunburn more common in these regions.
  • Altitude: Sunburn risk is also influenced by altitude. At higher altitudes, there is less atmosphere to absorb and scatter UV radiation, leading to increased UV exposure. Skiers, hikers, and mountaineers are at higher risk of sunburn when in elevated regions.
  • Skin Type: People with fair or light skin are more susceptible to sunburn because they have less melanin, the pigment that provides some natural protection against UV radiation. Individuals with darker skin have more melanin, which provides some degree of natural UV protection.
  • Duration of Exposure: The longer your skin is exposed to the sun without protection, the greater the risk of sunburn. Even short periods of intense exposure can lead to sunburn.
  • Lack of Sunscreen: Failing to use sunscreen or using it inadequately (not applying enough or not reapplying as needed) leaves your skin vulnerable to UV radiation.
  • Medications and Skin Sensitivities: Certain medications and topical products can make your skin more sensitive to UV radiation, increasing the risk of sunburn. Always check the labels and consult with a healthcare professional if you have concerns about medication side effects.
  • Reflective Surfaces: Surfaces like water, sand, snow, and concrete can reflect UV radiation, increasing your exposure. This reflection can lead to unexpected sunburn, even in shaded areas.
  • Clothing Choices: Wearing clothing that does not adequately cover your skin or provide UV protection can leave exposed areas vulnerable to sunburn.

When to Seek Medical Help for Sun Burn?

Seek medical attention if you have large blisters or those that form on the face, hands, or genitals. In addition, see your healthcare provider immediately if you have worsening pain, nausea, headache, confusion, fever, chills, pain in the eye or vision changes, or any signs of infection, such as blisters with swelling, pus, or streaks.

How to Prevent Sunburn?

Preventing sunburn is not only essential for immediate comfort and skin health but also plays a crucial role in reducing the risk of skin cancer later in life. Here are key strategies to help prevent sunburn and lower your skin cancer risk:

  • Use Sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher to all exposed skin, even on cloudy days. Reapply every two hours or more frequently if swimming or sweating. Sunscreen helps block harmful UV radiation and is a fundamental defense against sunburn and skin cancer.
  • Seek Shade: Whenever possible, stay in the shade, especially during peak sun hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Shade reduces your UV exposure and lowers the risk of sunburn.
  • Wear Protective Clothing: Cover up with clothing that provides effective sun protection. Choose long-sleeved shirts, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses with UV protection, and long pants or skirts. Some clothing even has a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating for added sun protection.
  • Avoid Tanning Beds: Artificial tanning beds emit concentrated UV radiation, which can be even more harmful than natural sunlight. Avoid tanning beds altogether to protect your skin from damage and reduce skin cancer risk.
  • Stay Informed About UV Index: Be aware of the UV Index in your area. This index provides information about the strength of UV radiation on a particular day. On days with a high UV Index, take extra precautions to prevent sunburn.
  • Protect Children: Children are especially vulnerable to sunburn and its long-term consequences. Ensure that children are well-covered with clothing and sunscreen when outdoors, and encourage them to play in the shade.
  • Regular Skin Checks: Perform regular self-examinations of your skin to monitor for any changes, such as new moles or spots or changes in existing ones. If you notice any suspicious changes, consult a dermatologist promptly.
  • Know Your Skin Type: Understand your skin type and its susceptibility to sunburn. Fair-skinned individuals are at higher risk and should take extra precautions.
  • Avoid Alcohol-Based Products: Some skincare products contain alcohol, which can make your skin more sensitive to UV radiation. Check product labels and avoid using these products before sun exposure.
  • Stay Hydrated: Proper hydration can help your skin cope with sun exposure. Drink plenty of water to maintain your body's overall health, including your skin's ability to recover from sun exposure.
  • Educate Yourself: Stay informed about the risks of sunburn and skin cancer. Knowledge is a powerful tool for prevention, and understanding the consequences of sunburn can motivate you to protect your skin.
  • Consult a Dermatologist: If you have a history of severe sunburns, a family history of skin cancer, or any concerns about your skin's health, consult a dermatologist. They can provide personalized advice and regular skin screenings to detect any issues early.

Remember that the effects of sunburn accumulate over time, so it's crucial to protect your skin from an early age. By following these prevention strategies, you can significantly reduce the risk of both sunburn and skin cancer in the future. Your skin's health is an investment in your long-term well-being.