When Sunburn Happens: A 3 Step Treatment Plan

Sometimes despite sunscreen, despite hats, despite avoiding the hottest part of the day, sunburn happens. From a mild pink sunburn to blisters, fever and chills, it’s not pleasant.

If sunburn is severe, especially if blisters occur, consult your doctor right away.

But for mild sunburns, in recognition of Sun Safety Week, here are the basics for treating it. 

As always, if you’re treating sunburn (or any condition) at home, and it doesn’t seem to get better or if symptoms worsen, please contact your physician.

Timeline of a Sunburn

Signs of sunburn may not appear for a few hours.

Mild sunburn is usually at its worst six to 48 hours after the burn, resolving in three to five days, and they usually heal themselves in a couple of weeks, depending on the location and severity of the burn.

But while the symptoms heal, the skin damage is permanent, although you may not see it for decades. Excessive and/or multiple sunburn cause premature aging of the skin and can lead to skin cancer.


  • To alleviate pain and heat (skin is warm to the touch) caused by sunburn, take a cool (not cold) bath, or gently apply cool, wet compresses to the skin.

  • Take a pain reliever, such as aspirin (children and teens should never be given aspirin because of the danger of Reye syndrome), acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

  • To rehydrate (add moisture to) the skin and help reduce swelling, apply topical moisturizing cream, aloe or 1 percent hydrocortisone cream.

Stay in the shade until the sunburn is healed. Additional sun exposure will only increase the severity and pain of the sunburn.

How GMC Can Help

Whether it’s sunburn, a cold, aches and pains or just a sports physical, find a physician that suits you, convenient to home, at gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/physician


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