Home Remedies for Sunburn
John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.
We all know that prevention is the best way to avoid sunburn, but sometimes even our best efforts aren't enough. And when sunburn strikes, fast action can ease the pain and prevent things from getting worse. Learn how to soothe sunburn at home -- and when it's time to see a doctor.
At the First Sign of Sunburn
Experts say it's important to treat sunburn as soon as you notice symptoms such as skin swelling, redness, or tenderness. Take action even before you notice any symptoms if you're worried about developing a sunburn after accidental sun overexposure.
"The first step is to take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain reliever, like ibuprofen, Aleve, Motrin, or aspirin," said Dee Anna Glaser, MD, professor and vice chairman in the department of dermatology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you are unsure if you can take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, consult your doctor before taking any medication to treat your sunburn pain.
Glaser says that in addition to easing pain, treating sunburn early with anti-inflammatory drugs can help fight the inflammatory reaction that's going on in the body. (Taking acetaminophen or Tylenol may provide pain relief, but it won't have the same anti-inflammatory effect.) You want to take [the medication] regularly and get started as quickly as possible, even if you're not uncomfortable," said Glaser. "It may help speed recovery from the burn and reduce cellular damage that the sunburn has caused."
Glaser also recommends getting extra vitamin C every day when you have a sunburn, either through your diet or a supplement every day. Glaser says some studies have shown that taking vitamin C before sunburn develops can help reduce some of the damage, though more research is needed.
Keeping Skin Comfortable
The next step in sunburn treatment is to cool the burn and soothe the skin. Here are several home remedies you can try:
Caring for Blisters and Peeling Skin
Blisters are a sign of a second-degree sunburn. They are there to help your skin heal and protect it from infection, so don't break or pick them. If blisters form on sunburned areas, "think of them as mother nature's Band-Aid," says Glaser.
If fluid buildup within a blister becomes uncomfortable, she recommends using a clean, sterilized needle or pin to drain the fluid, leaving the blistered skin attached.
Glaser also advises against picking at skin that's peeling. "It's so tempting to peel, but don't pull on peeling skin," says Glaser. "It will peel beyond where it should, so [it's best to] let it happen on its own."
When to Call the Doctor for Sunburn
Sunburn can usually be treated with home remedies, but medical help may be necessary in severe cases. Call your doctor if:
Author: Jennifer Warner
Last Editorial Review: 8/27/2013 7:07:25 PM