Sunburn Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on July 21, 2020
3 min read

Sunburn is damage to the outermost layers of your skin. It’s an inflammatory reaction to getting too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun. It can cause reddening, inflammation, and in extreme cases, blistering and peeling. The peeling is a sign that your body is trying to shed its damaged skin cells.

Sunburn treatment and home remedies

In the case of sunburn you should:

  • Call 911 If the person: 

    • Doesn’t seem to be responding to treatment.

    • Has a seizure, visual changes, or any other neurologic symptoms; these could be symptoms of serious heat illness.

  • Call a doctor if:

    • The burn has blisters or the skin looks white or feels numb. These are symptoms of a serious sunburn.

    • The sunburned person is a child under 1 year old. 

  • Rehydrate:

    • Replace body fluids with water, juice, or sports drinks.

  • Treat Symptoms

    • Apply aloe or over-the-counter moisturizing lotion to skin as directed.

    • Take a cool bath or shower to cool skin.

    • Apply cool compresses to soothe skin.

    • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (AdvilMotrin, Nuprin) for pain.

    • Leave blisters alone. Don’t break them.

    • Protect your skin from further sun exposure.

You can also try these home treatments for sunburn:

  • Soak in a bath with these natural ingredients:

    • Oatmeal: Put ground oatmeal in a sachet or sock and add it to your bath water.

    • Baking soda or cornstarch: Both help to relieve itching and inflammation when mixed with bath water.

    • Cider vinegar: Soaking in a vinegar bath can ease pain, inflammation, and itching.

  • Make skin-soothing remedies you can put on burnt skin using items from around your kitchen:

    • Ice: Use it to make ice water for a cold compress. Don’t put the ice directly on your skin.

    • Witch hazel: Put this anti-inflammatory astringent onto a clean cloth and apply to the affected area.

    • Oatmeal: Create a paste with rolled oats, honey and milk.

    • Tea: Brew some black, green or chamomile tea, let it cool and soak a clean cloth in the mixture. You can even add mint leaves to enhance the cooling effect.

    • Baking soda or cornstarch: Create a paste with either ingredient and water.

    • Coconut oil: Cool the affected area with cool water then apply the oil.

Go easy on natural home remedies and treatments at first to make sure you aren’t allergic to the ingredient(s), and to avoid further irritation or damage to your skin. To prevent an infection don’t put anything on blisters or open wounds.

  • How to treat blisters and peeling:
  • Don’t burst blisters. If they burst on their own, wash the area gently with soap and water, apply an antibiotic, and cover with a non-stick gauze bandage.
  • Handle peeling gently. Skin peeling is a natural process. It happens a few days after you get a sunburn. Continue to moisturize; you can use an aloe vera lotion or gel.
  • Avoid products that end with “caine,” like benzocaine. Some people are allergic to them.