First Aid for Sunburn

You should never get sunburned. It is not healthy and leads to premature aging, wrinkling of the skin and skin cancer.

Sunburn is caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. This can be from the sun, sunlamps or even from some workplace light sources such as welding arcs. Signs of sunburn are skin that is:

  • Red
  • Swollen
  • Painful
  • Sometimes blistered

Chills, fever, nausea and vomiting can occur if the sunburn covers a lot of your body and is severe.

The risk for sunburn is higher for:

  • Persons with fair skin, blue eyes and red or blond hair
  • Persons taking some medications including sulfa drugs, some antibiotics (tetracyclines), some
    water pills and even Benadryl (an over-the-counter antihistamine)
  • Persons who work with UV light sources
  • Persons exposed to a lot of outdoor sunlight


  • Avoid the sun’s rays between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
  • Protect your skin. Use sunblock with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more when exposed
    to the sun. The lighter your skin, the higher the SPF number should be. To work well, sunscreen
    should be put on 15 to 30 minutes before you are in the sun, every hour to hour and a half you
    stay in the sun and after swimming. You can buy makeup with sunscreen, too.
  • Wear muted colors such as tan. Bright colors and white reflect the sun onto the face. Some
    clothing has sunscreen protection.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Wear sunglasses that absorb at least 90% of UV rays . Labels on sunglasses tell you this.

Self-Care/First Aid

  • Cool the affected area with clean towels, cloths or gauze dipped in cool water or take a cool
    bath or shower.
  • Take aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen sodium for pain and/or headache and to
    reduce fever. Note: Do not give aspirin or any medication that has salicylates to anyone 19 years
    of age or younger unless a doctor tells you to.
  • Use an over-the-counter topical steroid cream such as Cortaid if the pain lasts.
  • Rest in a cool, quiet room. Find a comfortable position.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Don’t use local anesthetic creams or sprays that numb pain such as Benzocaine or Lidocaine. If
    you must use them, only use a little because they cause allergic reactions in some people.
  • Put sunscreen on and cover sunburned skin when you go in the sun again so you don’t get
    burned more.
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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021