Sunburn: First aid

If you have been sunburned, you will experience the signs and symptoms of sunburn within a few hours of exposure to the sun. The affected skin will be painful, red and swollen. In some cases it might blister. You may also experience a headache, fever and nausea.

If you have a sunburn

For sunburn relief, take these steps:

  • Cool the skin. Apply to the affected skin a clean towel dampened with cool tap water. Or take a cool bath.
  • Apply a moisturizer, lotion or gel. An aloe vera lotion or gel or calamine lotion may be soothing.
  • Drink water to prevent dehydration.
  • Don't break small blisters (no bigger than your little fingernail). If blisters break, gently clean the area with mild soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover the wound with a nonstick gauze bandage. If a rash develops, stop using the ointment and seek medical care.
  • Take a pain reliever such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) to help with the discomfort and swelling of sunburn. Some sunburn relief medications are gels.
  • Avoid more sun exposure while your skin heals from the sunburn.
  • Apply an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream if your sunburn is severe.

Seek medical care for large blisters, such as those that cover the back. Large blisters are best removed because they rarely remain intact on their own. Also seek medical help if you experience worsening pain, headache, confusion, nausea, fever, chills or signs of infection, such as blisters with pus or red streaks.

Last Updated May 30, 2020

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