Sunburn: First Aid

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If you have been sunburned, you will experience the signs and symptoms of sunburn within a few hours of exposure to the sun. The affected skin will be painful, red, and swollen. In some cases it might blister. You may also have a headache, fever, and nausea.

If you have a sunburn

  • Take a cool bath or shower, which may be soothing. Or apply a clean towel dampened with cool tap water to the affected skin.
  • Apply moisturizer. An aloe vera lotion or gel may be soothing.
  • Don't break small blisters (no bigger than your little fingernail). If blisters break, gently clean the area with mild soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover the wound with a nonstick gauze bandage.

See your doctor if you develop large blisters. Large blisters are best removed, as they rarely will remain intact on their own. Also seek medical help if you experience immediate complications, such as worsening pain, a headache, confusion, nausea, or chills.

If you plan to go in the sun

To help prevent sunburns, use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater and broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater. Reapply it every two hours, or more often if you're swimming or sweating. Stay in the shade, wear clothing that covers your arms and legs, and wear a hat.

Updated: 2017-08-17

Publication Date: 2017-08-17

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