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How To Treat a Sunburn


Updated May 26, 2014

Woman with sunburned back
Barbara Peacock/Stone/Getty Images

Sunburn treatment starts with prevention. Correctly using sunscreen will help prevent burns. Make sure you know sunscreen myths versus facts when out in the sun.

Sunburns are caused by UV radiation rather than heat (ie, we get sunburns on cold, snowy days).

Sunburns destroy skin, which controls the amount of heat our bodies retain or release, holds in fluids, and protects us from infection.

Remember always, if you think a burn of any type is significant, do not hesitate to call 911 immediately.

Here's How:

  1. Get out of the sun. Staying in the sun after the burn is present will make it worse.
  2. Look for blisters. Blistering means the skin is completely damaged and complications are likely. If the area with blisters is bigger than one entire arm or the whole abdomen, seek medical attention by calling 911 or visiting the emergency department.
  3. Take a cool shower or bath to soothe the pain.
  4. Apply aloe or another cooling agent. Whatever you use - DO NOT APPLY BUTTER OR OIL TO ANY BURN!
  5. Over the counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be used for the pain of a sunburn. If stronger pain relief is needed, contact a physician or go to the emergency department.


  1. Burns cause swelling. Burns of the face and neck can sometimes swell enough to cause difficulty breathing. If that happens, call 911 immediately.


  2. Burns that completely circle the hands or feet may cause such severe swelling that blood flow is restricted. If swollen or tight hands and feet become numb and tingly, blue, cold, or "fall asleep," then call 911 immediately.


  3. While the burn is healing, wear loose natural clothing like silks or light cottons. Harsher fabrics will irritate the skin even more.


  4. Too much sun can also cause heat illness. Learn how to recognize and treat heat exhaustion and heat stroke.


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