How to Treat Sunburn Fast: Home Remedies for Healing

Medically Reviewed By Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
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Sunburn is a type of skin damage that occurs following exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Treating sunburn quickly and effectively can help alleviate pain and encourage healing. Various home remedies can help you reduce the symptoms of sunburn and minimize further sun damage. Typical symptoms of sunburn include redness or discoloration, tender skin, and pain.

However, if you experience severe sunburn, which includes skin blistering, it is important that you seek medical advice.

Read on for information about steps to take at home for treating sunburn, when to contact a doctor, and how to prevent sunburn.

Apply soothing moisturizer

A person with sunburn is applying cream.
Lucas Ottone/Stocksy United

Applying certain moisturizers, creams, or ointments can help soothe sunburned skin. Suitable options include:

  • moisturizers containing aloe vera
  • soy-based moisturizers
  • hydrocortisone cream

It is important to avoid using products containing benzocaine or other local anesthetic creams, as these can cause skin irritation. In some cases, they may also cause an allergic reaction.

Wash with cool water

Washing with cool or lukewarm water can help soothe painful skin. You may also find that taking a cool colloidal oatmeal bath is effective in soothing your skin.

It is important to pat your skin dry gently after showering or bathing. Applying a moisturizer when your skin is mostly dry can help trap water in your skin. This, in turn, helps reduce dryness.

Take pain relief medication

Over-the-counter pain relief medication can help alleviate pain. People can select medications that contain aspirin or ibuprofen, which will also reduce inflammation.

Seek advice from a pharmacist regarding specific medications. These professionals can suggest pain relief medications that will help without interfering with any other medication you may currently be taking.

Drink plenty of water

It is important to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

Drinking water can also help cool you down on a hot day, which may help lessen discomfort.

Avoid further sun exposure

It is important to avoid further sun exposure where possible to prevent your skin from becoming more sunburned.

If you do need to go outdoors, make sure you cover sunburned skin with loose clothing to protect it from the sun.

Where possible, try to limit your time outdoors to periods when the sun is not as strong. The sun’s rays are typically the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so it is best to stay indoors during this part of the day, if possible.

Other tips

Other tips to help treat sunburn, encourage healing, and prevent it from worsening include:

  • avoiding applying ice or ice packs directly to your skin
  • avoiding popping any blisters or picking at the affected skin
  • making sure that clothing is not too tight, as this can rub against or irritate the skin
  • sponging cool water gently onto sunburned skin

Learn more about home remedies for sunburn relief.

When should I see a doctor?

You can typically treat mild sunburn on your own using home remedies. You can expect the symptoms to get better within about 7 days.

However, you should contact a doctor if your symptoms do not improve within this time. You should also seek medical advice if you experience severe sunburn.

The symptoms of severe sunburn include:

Learn about sun poisoning, a severe type of sunburn.

What are the medical treatments for sunburn?

For severe cases of sunburn, you may require medical treatment. This may involve:

Learn more about medical treatments for sunburn.

How to treat blistered sunburn

You may be able to treat blistered sunburn at home.

It is important to avoid popping blisters, as this can increase the risk of infection. Instead, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend:

  • bandaging blisters or covering the area with gauze
  • removing dry fragments of peeling skin carefully once the blister has naturally broken
  • applying hydrocortisone cream or antiseptic ointments once the blister has broken

You should seek medical treatment if you experience severe sunburn that covers more than 15% of your body. You should also contact your doctor for blisters that become infected. Signs of infection include:

  • swelling
  • pus
  • yellowing of the skin

Learn more about sunburn blisters.

What causes sunburn?

Sunburn results from exposure to the sun’s UV rays. It causes radiation burn to the skin, which can begin in as little as 11 minutes.

The skin can become red or discolored within 2–6 hours. Sunburn can continue to develop over 24–72 hours, and, in some cases, it can take days or weeks to heal.

How do I prevent sunburn?

You can take steps to reduce your risk of getting sunburn. These include:

  • wearing clothing that covers as much skin as possible
  • applying a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30
  • wearing a hat with a wide brim to protect your face from the sun
  • spending time in shaded areas where possible
  • staying indoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., as this is when the sun’s UV rays are strongest

Learn more about how to protect your skin from the sun.

Summary

Although it is best to avoid getting sunburned, you can treat mild sunburn at home. Washing with cool water and applying moisturizer after bathing or showering can help soothe sunburned skin. Pain relief medication such as ibuprofen and aspirin can help alleviate pain.

You can also take steps to reduce further sun damage. These include avoiding spending time outdoors where possible and wearing loose-fitting clothing to protect the skin from sun exposure.

You may require medical treatment for severe or blistering sunburn. It is important to contact a doctor for advice if sunburn covers more than 15% of your body, you experience severe pain, or blisters become infected.

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Medical Reviewer: Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 23
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.