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Here’s Exactly How to Treat a Bad Sunburn (+ When to See a Doctor)

In this video, learn the right way to soothe seriously sunburnt skin.

Preeti Parikh, MD
Written by Brittany Doohan | Reviewed by Preeti Parikh, MD
Published on June 13, 2018

Warm, sunny weather: It’s all fun and beach volleyball until someone—and by someone, we mean your skin—gets hurt.

When you get a bad sunburn, you almost feel betrayed. By yourself, if you didn’t prevent said sunburn with the appropriate 30+ SPF and sunglasses, but also, by the sun. Even if you do your best to combat those harmful rays, sometimes those UVA and UVBs get through and damage your precious epidermis.

Protecting your skin from the sun with the right sunscreen and protective clothing is essential. Not only will this help prevent premature aging, but it also significantly decreases your chance of getting skin cancer. Here’s how to apply sunscreen correctly, according to a dermatologist.

Once you’ve come to terms with the fact that your skin is burnt, it’s time to do some damage control, because hey, your skin is fried, and it hurts. If you’re still out in the sun and your skin is sizzling, first things first, get out of the sun. Go inside or hide under an umbrella. Second, follow these tips to soothe that sun-scorched skin.

1. Put a cool, wet towel on your skin. This will not only feel nice, but will also help take some of the heat out of your skin. Do this for 10 or 15 minutes a few times every day.

2. Moisturize with aloe vera or soy-based lotions. After bathing (cool water baths and showers can also help take the heat out of your skin), gently pat dry with a towel but leave some water on the skin. Apply an aloe vera or soy-based moisturizer to trap the water and soothe skin.

Be sure not to use lotions with petroleum, benzocaine, or lidocaine. Moisturizers with these ingredients can actually do more harm than good by trapping the heat and irritating your skin.

Even better, chill the bottle of lotion in the fridge before you slather it on for extra cooling power.

3. Drink extra H20. Sunburns dry you up from the inside out, so it’s important to drink extra water and other fluids to avoid dehydration. Here are textbook signs you could be dehydrated.

4. Try an over-the-counter pain reliever. To reduce swelling, redness, and discomfort, try taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen.

5. Know when to see a doctor. If your sunburn causes blisters, fever, chills, headache, or a general feeling of illness, call your doctor right away. Severe sunburns may require medical attention.

Stay safe, have fun, and protect your skin from skin cancer with these tips.


Treating sunburn. American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on June 13, 2018 at https://www.aad.org/public/kids/skin/skin-cancer/treating-sunburn)

Sunburn (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. (Accessed on June 13, 2018 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/sunburn-beyond-the-basics)

View All References (1)

Sunburn (The Basics). UpToDate. (Accessed on June 13, 2018 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/sunburn-the-basics)

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