Worst Case Scenario: Treating Sunburn

Published on May 1, 2012

Bottom line: When you are at the beach or involved in any outdoor activity, never seek a tan, and never sunburn; both suntans and sunburns result from DNA damage that can pave the way to skin cancer. Find shade immediately or head indoors if you start to redden or your skin starts to ache or tingle. sun

If despite your best efforts you come home with a burn, taking certain steps can lessen the impact. First, do what you can to relieve the discomfort. "Sunburn literally cooks the protein in the skin," says Zoe Draelos, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

If your skin begins to peel afterwards -a natural part of the healing process-use a non-greasy moisturizer to soothe the area. Do not cover up the peeling section with a self- tanning lotion, says Dr. Draelos, "because it will stick to the peeling skin and make it look worse."

Usually, sunburn does not require a doctor's care. However, "if you are running a fever, see a doctor, as that would indicate possible heatstroke," explains Dr. Draelos. "Also, if a young child has a bad sunburn and is at risk of dehydration, or if someone is burned over a large portion of his/her body, they may require medical attention." Dr. Draelos also recommends a home remedy for soothing the skin by using a washcloth soaked in cold skim milk. "The coolness takes out the initial fire, and the milk creates a protein film that helps ease the ensuing discomfort."

In Case of Sunburn

Even the most careful people can accidentally get burned. Sunburns should be avoided at all costs, as they can significantly increase your risk for skin cancer. Severe burns can also make you ill. For milder burns, follow these steps to relieve discomfort:

  • Take Fluids

    Drink water, juice or sports drinks to replace body fluids.

  • Get Relief

    Take acetaminophen if you have a headache, slight fever or chills.

  • Cool Down

    Take a cool bath in tepid water to soothe and cool the skin.

  • Moisturize

    Gently apply a light moisturizer to the skin.

  • Seek Shade

    Stay out of the sun until the burn fades.

  • Don't Burn!

    Above all, the next time you are in the sun, do not burn!


To prevent sunburn and practice sun safety, follow the Foundation's tips.