How to Treat Sunburn

Rayward Apparel

Without proper UV protection, your skin is highly susceptible to sunburn. Depending on the UV conditions and your skin type, it could take as little as 15 minutes of unprotected exposure to get sunburn. Of course, the best way to avoid a painful sunburn is with a combination of UPF apparel and sunscreen. However, with insufficient sun safety preparation or even a momentary lapse in sun protection, accidents can happen. If you do sustain a sunburn, follow these quick tips to treat sunburn:

One of the most important factors in tending to sunburn is to begin treating the damage as soon as possible. Therefore, early identification is critical, so pay attention to how long you’ve been in the sun, and consider that you may not see or feel a sunburn right away. If you suspect that you or someone you know may have sustained a sunburn, consider the following treatment steps.

Get Out of the Sun First, Then Treat Sunburn

The first step is to get out of the sun as quickly as possible. If you haven’t already done so, seek shade or shelter, preferably indoors. If you're camping outdoors and don't have accessible shelter, use the shade to your advantage. Make sure you are not only safe from direct sunlight, but also reflected UV rays that bounce off of water, sand, cement and other surfaces. It’s hard to tell how bad a sunburn is right away, so don’t take any chances by letting it get worse. Once safely indoors, you can begin to treat sunburn and follow steps for pain relief.


Drink plenty of water. Sunburned skin pulls fluids away from the rest of your body towards the skin’s surface, so dehydration is a big concern. Combat this by drinking extra water and re-hydrating. If you develop lightheadedness, chills or a fever, seek medical attention.

Drinking Water to Treat Sunburn

Anti-inflammatory for Pain and Swelling

To reduce pain and swelling, consider taking an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen or aspirin. These are most effective if taken within a few hours of sustaining the sunburn. However, as with any medication, consult your doctor before use, and make sure you are aware of any potential side effects.

Cool Showers or Baths

Over the next several days, take cool showers or baths to treat sunburn. After each, be careful to lightly pat yourself dry so as to avoid irritating your skin. You may also find some relief in not drying off completely, but instead leaving your skin damp.

Water-based Moisturizer

To treat sunburn, apply water-based skin moisturizer, preferably one with aloe vera, to your still-damp skin. This offers the dual benefit of soothing burned skin and preventing dryness. In cases with significant discomfort or especially damaged skin, you might consider applying a non-prescription hydrocortisone cream.

When to Seek Medical Attention to Treat Sunburn

If your sunburned skin begins to blister, this indicates a second-degree sunburn. Do NOT pop the blisters. Instead, allow them to heal, as this is your skin’s natural response to heal and defend against infection. Please speak with a doctor if you experience significant blistering or extreme discomfort.

While taking the treatment steps above will reduce your discomfort and prevent further damage, nothing will heal a sunburn overnight. Therefore, while your skin recovers, be extra careful to protect your skin from additional UV exposure. Always wear UPF apparel to cover as much of your skin as possible, since this is the most effective form of sun protection. For all remaining exposed areas of skin, liberally apply broad-spectrum sunscreen (minimum SPF 30), remembering to re-apply every two hours.

Whether minor or severe, every sunburn has lasting effects well beyond reddened skin. What's more, sun damage is cumulative and sustaining sunburn increases your risk of getting skin cancer. Don’t let one sunburn keep you from going outdoors. At the same time, however, don’t take it lightly. Sun protection and sunburn prevention starts before you leave the house, so plan accordingly with UPF sun protection clothing from Rayward Apparel.

For additional information, check out this short video from the American Academy of Dermatology:

Sources: Skin Cancer Foundation; American Academy of Dermatology