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.

3 thoughts on “Sunburn: What Can I Do?

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