For Adults: 5 Ways to Treat a Sunburn
1. Act Fast to Cool It Down
If you’re near a cold pool, lake or ocean, take a quick dip to cool your skin, but only for a few seconds so you don’t prolong your exposure. Then cover up and get out of the sun immediately. Continue to cool the burn with cold compresses. You can use ice to make ice water for a cold compress, but don’t apply ice directly to the sunburn. Or take a cool shower or bath, but not for too long, which can be drying, and avoid harsh soap, which might irritate the skin even more.
2. Moisturize While Skin Is Damp
While skin is still damp, use a gentle moisturizing lotion (but not petroleum or oil-based ointments, which may trap the heat and make the burn worse). Repeat to keep burned or peeling skin moist over the next few days.
3. Decrease the Inflammation
If it is safe for you to do so, take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin at the first sign of sunburn to help with discomfort and inflammation, says Dr. Brackeen, who practices at the Skin Cancer Institute in Lubbock, Texas. You can continue with the NSAIDs as directed on the label until the burn feels better. You can also use an over-the-counter 1 percent cortisone cream as directed for a few days to help calm redness and swelling. Aloe vera may also soothe mild burns and is generally considered safe. Continue with cool compresses to help discomfort, wear loose, soft, breathable clothing to avoid further skin irritation and stay out of the sun entirely until the sunburn heals.
4. Replenish Your Fluids
Burns draw fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body, so you may become dehydrated, explains Dr. Brackeen. It’s important to rehydrate by drinking extra liquids, including water and sports drinks that help to replenish electrolytes, immediately and while your skin heals.
5. See a Doctor If …
You should seek medical help if you or a child has severe blistering over a large portion of the body, has a fever and chills or is woozy or confused. Don’t scratch or pop blisters, which can lead to infection. Signs of infection include red streaks or oozing pus.
Bottom line: Your skin will heal, but real damage has been done. “Repeat sunburns put you at a substantial risk for skin cancer and premature skin aging, and I want people to ‘learn from the burn,’” Dr. Brackeen says. Review our sun protection guidelines. Remember how bad this sunburn felt, then commit to protecting yourself from the sun every day, all year long.
Your baby’s skin: soft, sweet-smelling, vulnerable. You notice that when you’re diapering: irritation develops easily, but a soothing cream clears it up like magic.
Young skin heals faster than older skin, but it is also less able to protect itself from injury, including injury from the sun.
Babies under 6 months of age should never be exposed to the sun. Babies older than 6 months should be protected from the sun, and wear UV-blocking sunglasses to protect their eyes. If your child becomes sunburned, follow these guidelines:
- Bathe in clear, tepid water to cool the skin.
- For a baby less than 1 year old, sunburn should be treated as an emergency. Call your doctor immediately.
- For a child 1 year or older, call your doctor if there is severe pain, blistering, lethargy or fever over 101○ F (38.3○ C).
- Sunburn can cause dehydration. Give your child water or juice to replace body fluids. Contact the doctor if the child is not urinating regularly; this is an emergency.
- Apply light moisturizing lotion to soothe the skin, but don’t rub it in.
- Dabbing on plain calamine lotion may help, but don’t use one with an added antihistamine.
- Do not apply alcohol, which can overcool the skin.
- Do not use any medicated cream such as hydrocortisone or benzocaine unless instructed by your pediatrician.
- Keep your child out of the sun entirely until the sunburn heals.
- Practice sun protection and make sure that no matter where you child goes, sun safety is taken into account.