Treating Sunburn

Aug 4, 2022

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Preventing sunburn is key. If you missed last week's article you can find it at However, sometimes sunburns happen for one reason or another. If it does treat it, and let it be a reminder to use the sunscreen and hat the next time you are out in the sun.

Sunburn is a form of radiation damage to the outermost layers of your skin, resulting from an overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. 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. Along with pain, sunburn causes general fatigue, itching and nausea. Excessive UV radiation is the leading cause of non-malignant skin tumors.

Special populations, including children, are especially susceptible to sunburn and protective measures should be used to prevent damage. Light skin tone and the use of certain medications may significantly increase the risk of sunburn. Examples of medications we see increase the skin's sensitivity to skin include certain antibiotics and acne medications.

The first part of sunburn treatment process is to avoid further exposure to the sun. Protect sunburned skin with loose clothing when going outside to prevent further damage, while not irritating the sunburn. If you need to be outside with exposed sunburned skin, it must have sunblock on it.

The best treatment for most sunburns is time. Most sunburns heal completely within a few weeks. To treat pain and inflammation cool and moisturize the skin. Take cool baths or showers frequently but avoid hair and skin products which may irritate the skin. Using cool and wet cloths on the sunburned areas may also help with discomfort. Apply a soothing moisturizer which contains aloe vera. While studies have mixed results in the use of aloe vera, there is no harm in its cooling and protective effect.

Using anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help with pain which reducing the skin's inflammatory response. They may also reduce redness. Tylenol or acetaminophen may help with pain but does not have the anti-inflammatory effect. Topical anesthetics may reduce pain but are not usually recommended. These medications, including lidocaine and benzocaine, may irritate the burned or blistering skin. Topical steroids can be used on intact skin for redness and itching, but their effectiveness in sunburn is questionable and usually not recommended.

A sunburn draws fluid to the skin's surface and away from the rest of the body. Keep hydrated and drink extra water. Aim for at least two litres or fluid per day. You must replace the lost fluids with water, juice, or sports drinks.

Do not pop blisters on a sunburn; let them heal on their own instead. If they burst on their own, wash the area gently with soap and water, apply a topical antibiotic cream or ointment, and cover with a non-stick gauze bandage. Peeling of a sunburned area if a natural process and will begin a few days after the burn. Handle peeling gently. Continue to moisturize; you can use an aloe-vera lotion or gel.

Medical attention is necessary if the sunburn does not appear to respond to treatment. Getting medical help is also required if there are any visual changes or any other neurologic symptoms. This could be a sign of heat related illnesses. Symptoms of a serious sunburn include when the burn has blisters, or the skin looks white or feels numb. Sunburn in children under one year old should also require a doctor's visit.

Stay safe, stay healthy and enjoy the rest of the summer.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist, or other health care professional.


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