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Healing sunburns at home

Families across Washington are flocking outdoors to enjoy the summer sun. Between social distancing, masks and hand sanitizer, there’s a lot to remember - but don’t forget the sunscreen! Despite how good the sunlight might feel, it can have a seriously negative impact on your skin.

The sun's UV rays can damage unprotected skin in as little as 15 minutes. If you find yourself with a sunburn, there are several at-home treatments to relieve the pain and help soothe your skin.

DO apply cool water to the burn

Apply a cool washcloth to the burn or take frequent cool baths. Cool water helps draw the heat out of the burn and soothe the skin. 

DON'T apply ice

Placing ice or freezing cold compresses directly on a sunburn can cause further damage to the skin tissue. 

DO apply gel or lotion to cool skin

A great treatment for sunburn to help soothe your skin is applying a moisturizer, lotion, or gel to the sunburned area. Aloe vera gel or lotion is a particularly good remedy for sunburn. If your burn hurts, applying hydrocortisone cream may also relieve the discomfort.

DON’T apply oils or "-caine" products

Coconut oil and oil-based lotions are a popular remedy for dry, flaking skin, but they should not be used as the first line of treatment for a sunburn. Oils can trap heat, worsen the burn, and increase pain. And creams or lotions with benzocaine or lidocaine may irritate the skin. 

DO drink water

When the sun's rays damaged your skin, they took out quite a bit of moisture from it in the process. When treating a sunburn, you should drink extra water or sports drinks to prevent dehydration.

DON’T drink alcohol

Even if you have moved to the shade or indoors, avoid alcohol or too much caffeine. These drinks can dehydrate you and make your burn worse.

DO cover your skin right away

Protect your burn from further exposure by wearing a loose shirt or draping a towel over the affected area.

DON’T peel, pop or pick your skin

After a significant sunburn, your skin may start to peel or form blisters. Picking or peeling the skin may lead to further damage, leave you vulnerable to infection or cause scarring. Instead, continue to cool, moisturize and take over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as ibuprofen to treat inflammation.

Do you need to go to the doctor for a sunburn?

For most sunburns, you likely will not need to seek professional medical treatment. However, there are instances when a sunburn is severe enough that you need to be seen:

  • If the sunburn is severe, showing blisters, and covers a large portion of your body
  • If a high fever, severe pain, dehydration, headache, confusion, nausea or chills accompany the sunburn
  • If you've developed a skin infection, as indicated by swelling, pus or red streaks leading from a blister
  • If your sunburn doesn't respond to at-home treatments

At Indigo Health, your provider may suggest a corticosteroid cream for the burn or a short course of prednisone for cases that involve a large portion of your body. They likely will not need to prescribe antibiotics unless you develop an infection.

If you or a family member have a sunburn severe enough that it needs medical treatment, Indigo is here for you. We have 25 locations across Washington and are open every day, 8 am to 8 pm.



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