Question: How can I relieve the discomfort of a sunburn

Answer: Minor sunburn causes redness, mild pain, and peeling. More severe sunburn can lead to skin blistering. Unless your sunburn is severe, you can treat it with over-the-counter products to soothe the pain, decrease inflammation, and prevent further irritation.

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and aspirin can be used. For children, use aspirin only if your doctor instructs you to.  Ibuprofen and aspirin will also help relieve inflammation (swelling).

To minimize pain and cool the skin, take a cool bath for relief, but do not use soap, which can irritate the skin. Or, lay a cool, dampened washcloth over the burn, several times a day, for a cooling effect. Avoid rubbing the sunburned skin when drying off after bathing.

Aloe Vera gel or lotion will help cool and soothe sunburn and may have healing effects, although more research is needed to prove its healing effects. Aloe Vera spray should be used to avoid rubbing and further irritating your skin. Some Aloe Vera products are combined with benzocaine or lidocaine to provide pain relief. These products should be avoided because benzocaine and lidocaine may irritate the skin and may cause an allergic reaction.

You can also use hydrocortisone creams for inflammation, itch, and irritation, but again, avoid products that contain benzocaine or lidocaine which may irritate sunburned skin. Do not use hydrocortisone products on children less than 2 years of age, unless advised to do so by your doctor.

Moisturizing lotions will help keep your skin moist, but will not prevent peeling or blistering. Petroleum jelly and butters are not recommended.

Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Alcoholic beverages, which are dehydrating, should be avoided.

It may take several days for your sunburned skin to heal. Blistered skin will take longer to heal. Never pop blisters. This may lead to infection. Some signs of infection include:

  • fever
  • increased pain, swelling, redness around blisters
  • pus draining from blisters
  • red streaks from blisters

Call your doctor if any of these signs of infection occur.

Last Updated: November 24, 2013