A Dermatologist’s Tips for Soothing a Sunburn

A sunburn may feel like just a short-term pain, but after the redness and discomfort fade, the damage remains.

Sunburns can range from a mild pink to blistering, but any degree of burn is a sign of damage to your DNA that can result in premature aging and skin cancer. Your risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, doubles with a history of five or more sunburns.

To prevent sunburn, take care to wear sunscreen daily, not just at the beach or the pool. When you’re outdoors for longer periods of time, give your skin a break by seeking shade, applying broad-spectrum sunscreen and wearing sun-protective clothing.

But even as I preach prevention, I know that sunburns can happen.

Here are some steps you can take to soothe your sunburn at home:

  • Treat your sunburn as soon as possible. Get inside and begin to calm inflammation from the inside and the outside.
  • Take a (short) lukewarm bath or apply a cool compress to reduce the heat.
  • As soon as you get out of the bath, gently pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Then apply a mild moisturizer like Cetaphil or CeraVe to help trap the water in your skin.
  • Apply hydrocortisone cream to help ease discomfort.
  • Take aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce swelling, redness and discomfort.
  • Drink extra water. A sunburn draws fluid to the skin surface and away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water helps prevent dehydration.
  • Avoid the sun while your skin heals. Cover the sunburned area with protective clothing when you go outside again.
  • Avoid treating sunburns with ‘caine’ products like benzocaine.
  • Allow blisters to heal untouched. They are the sign of a second-degree sunburn and they form to help your skin heal and protect you from infection. Treat blistering and sloughing with petroleum jelly or Aquaphor and seek the care of a dermatologist.

If your sunburn is resulting in chills, fever, headache, nausea, large areas of blistering or if you’re on medications that can cause increased sun sensitivity such as doxycycline, as well as some blood pressure and cholesterol medications, you should seek immediate medical care.

Finally, learn from your experience! Remember to wear sun protective clothing, a hat and sunscreen next time you go outside to reduce your risk of further UV damage.

Congratulations to Dr. Trizna on his upcoming retirement July 19!