Sunburn and Sun Poisoning (cont.)
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.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
In this Article
- Sunburn facts
- What is sunburn?
- Can sunburn cause permanent damage?
- What is UV light and where are UV rays most intense?
- What are the symptoms of sunburn?
- What are the symptoms of severe sunburn (sun poisoning)?
- Sunburn pictures
- What first-aid measures should be taken with sunburn?
- What is the treatment for sunburn?
- Are there any home remedies to treat sunburn?
- Is a follow-up visit with a physician necessary?
- Why does the skin tan after exposure to UV rays?
- Who is most susceptible to sunburn?
- Can diseases cause a heightened sensitivity to UV rays?
- Can medications increase sensitivity to sunburn?
- What kinds of skin cancer can UV rays cause?
- How can sunburn and skin cancer be prevented?
- How do sunscreens work?
- What is SPF?
- What is the best way to apply sunscreen?
- Do sunscreens expire?
- Can antioxidants protect against sunburn?
- Summer Skin Hazards FAQs
- Find a local Dermatologist in your town
What first-aid measures should be taken with sunburn?
If symptoms of severe sunburn are present, the individual should contact their doctor, urgent care facility, or emergency department. If compresses are applied, they should be dipped in cool or tepid water, not cold water.
If the symptoms of sunburn are mild or moderate, the patient may drink plenty of water to replenish the fluid lost from the sunburn and to avoid dehydration. Other simple home remedies for sunburn are listed in the following sections.
What is the treatment for sunburn?
Most of the treatments available to treat sunburn are only used to treat symptoms.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in oral (ibuprofen, Motrin, Naprosyn, Advil etc.) or topical diclofenac 0.1% gel (Solaraze) forms have shown to reduce redness if applied before or immediately after UVB exposure. This benefit may be diminished after 24 hours. These medications may also help relieve the symptoms of sunburn such as pain and discomfort.
Topical steroid creams may not help. Oral steroids such as prednisone also have not been proven beneficial and have been associated with some significant side effects.
Applying Aloe Vera gel to the skin may be beneficial in treating the symptoms.
Other remedies such as topical anesthetics (benzocaine) may help relieve symptoms of sunburn.
Are there any home remedies to treat sunburn?
There are some simple measures that can be applied at home to help with sunburns. The easiest and most important remedy to sunburn is using effective preventative measures to avoid sunburn. These steps include:
- Do not spend too much time in the sun, especially in direct sunlight in the middle of the day.
- Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, hats with a large brim, and use sunscreen.
- Drink water to keep hydrated while spending time in the sun.
Once sunburn occurs, there are sunburn remedies that can help with treating sunburn symptoms. These include:
- Apply dampened cloths or compresses to reduce the heat and lessen the pain
- Soak in a bathtub of plain, soap-free water (soap can irritate the burn).
- Gently pat the skin dry afterward - do not rub it
- Apply a soothing cream, lotion, or another preparation approved by a
physician or pharmacist
- Some preparations, in particular those containing benzocaine (Endocaine, Hurricaine), can trigger an allergic reaction in some individuals, and certain ointments can retard healing by sealing off the skin from the air.
- If the discomfort is significant, take an OTC painkiller such as acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Medipren, Motrin, Nuprin, PediaCare Fever, and others)
- These medications also can be used to treat headache associated with sunburn. Headache may be caused by dehydration. Drinking plenty of fluids (no caffeine or alcohol) is one way to prevent dehydration while out in the sun for prolonged periods of time.
- Moisturizing measures with creams or Aloe Vera gel may also help with symptoms of sunburn.
If blisters form after sunburn, do not attempt to burst or "pop" them unless they are located in a very painful area, or are otherwise causing a lot of discomfort due to size. Most blisters will break by themselves if they are left alone. Blisters are better left uncovered as rubbing or placing a tight cover over them may cause infections and more discomfort. If blisters need to be covered because they cause discomfort by rubbing on clothes, they should be covered by a loosely applied dressing.Once a sunburn blister breaks, the area of the broken blister should be kept clean by washing it frequently with soap and water. The left over skin should be left alone, but cleaned, until it falls off. Broken blisters generally heal on their own, but they are susceptible to infections. Topical antibiotic ointments can be applied to the area of broken blisters to prevent infections.
If a sun blister is uncomfortable or too large or located in a cosmetically unappealing area, consider breaking it carefully. This could be done by gently cleaning the area well with soap and water or rubbing alcohol and using a sterilized needle to punch a hole at the edge of the blister gently. The fluid inside can be pushed towards the hole and drained. The area should be cleaned again and covered with a loose dressing afterwards. Topical antibiotics can be applied to the broken blister also in order to reduce the risk of infection.
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