Sunburn: What Can I Do?

Paul M. Graham, DO

Summer is finally here and that means spending a lot more time outdoors. It is almost inevitable that you will experience a sunburn at least once this season if proper sun protection habits are not in place. Depending on the amount of sun exposure that occurs, a sunburn can be quite debilitating, often with significant discomfort. To expedite a speedy recovery and diminish the symptoms associated with a moderate to severe sunburn, follow these 8 simple steps.

  1. Get out of the sun
    • As soon as a sunburn occurs, it is imperative to seek shade immediately. Additional sun exposure will lead to further damage to the skin.
  2. A nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or aspirin should be considered
    • Anti-inflammatory medication can help relieve the discomfort and swelling associated with a sunburn.
  3. Moisturize with aloe vera
    • Aloe vera offers soothing and antimicrobial benefits when applied to sunburn.
  4. Relieve discomfort with frequent cool showers
    • Cool showers help decrease associated discomfort and swelling by slowing blood flow to the skin.
  5. Drink more water
    • A sunburn often causes increased blood flow to the skin leading to a decrease in volume of water in the body. It is important to replenish this deficit by drinking extra water throughout the day.
  6. If blisters develop, apply a petrolatum-based ointment (Aquaphor/Vaseline)
    • Blisters are often a sign of a second-degree burn and typically results from a disruption in the top layer of the skin called the epidermis. A moist environment helps to speed up healing time and decreases risk of infection.
  7. Make sun-protection a habit
  8. Schedule an appointment with a dermatologist 
    • It is highly recommended to have yearly full-body skin exams. Proper skin surveillance will decrease the chances of skin cancer going unnoticed.

Although a sunburn may be temporary, it is very important to keep in mind that exposure to UV radiation significantly increases your risk for the development of skin cancer. According to a study published in JAMA in 2006, 1 in 4 Americans will develop skin cancer during the course of their life. Seeing a dermatologist at least once a year will lower your risk of developing an invasive skin cancer and often will increase your awareness of good sun-protection practices.



  1. Robinson, JK. Sun exposure, sun protection, and vitamin D. JAMA 2005; 294:1541-43.

Please note, our medical disclaimer applies to all information, images, recommendations, and comments published on this page.

Published by Dr. Paul M. Graham

Paul M. Graham, D.O. (Founder/Editor-in-chief) founded Dimensional Dermatology in May 2016 with the vision to provide concise, easy to read, up-to-date dermatology and aesthetic medicine information to patients, medical staff, providers, and the general public. Dr. Graham is currently completing his training as a cosmetic dermatologic surgery fellow in Virginia Beach, Virginia at the McDaniel Laser and Cosmetic Center. He completed his dermatology training at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and was a clinical instructor at Michigan State University. He received his B.S. degree as Summa Cum Laude at Old Dominion University, his D.O. degree as Cum Laude at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, completed his internship at Largo Medical Center in Largo, Florida as chief intern, and completed his dermatology residency training at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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