Skin Care

6 ways to treat and soothe sunburn

MoleMap Team
August 15, 2023
5 minutes

Did you know that your risk of get­ting melanoma dou­bles if you’ve been sun­burnt more than five times? Many of us would have been ​‘fried’ at least that often in our life­time, and unfor­tu­nate­ly, once you’ve been sun­burned, the dam­age is already done.

It can hap­pen so eas­i­ly. You’re out play­ing, swim­ming or work­ing in the sun – or you nod off — and before you know it, you’re bright red and feel­ing the pain. It can take sev­er­al hours for the full dam­age to show itself, so get out of the sun at the first sign of sun­burn – and fol­low these help­ful tips to try to help soothe the burn and swelling.

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Cool off — fast.

If you’re near a cold pool, lake or ocean, take a quick dip to cool your skin, but only for a few sec­onds so you don’t pro­long your expo­sure. Then cov­er up and get out of the sun imme­di­ate­ly. A cool show­er or bath also works well, but keep it short and keep away from harsh soaps, which could fur­ther irri­tate the skin.

Con­tin­ue to cool the sun­burn with cold or icy com­press­es (although remem­ber not to apply ice direct­ly to the sun­burn – ouch!).

cool the sun­burn with cold or icy com­press­es

Keep skin cool and moist

While your skin is still damp, use a gen­tle mois­tur­is­ing lotion or a sooth­ing after-sun spray or gel (aloe vera is known to soothe mild burns and is gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered safe). Repeat the mois­turis­er reg­u­lar­ly so that burned or peel­ing skin stays cool and moist over the next few days. Have cool show­ers or baths; oat­meal may be sooth­ing and moisturising.


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Reduce inflammation

At the first sign of sun­burn, tak­ing a non­s­teroidal, anti-inflam­ma­to­ry med­ica­tion such as ibupro­fen, naprox­en or aspirin, can help reduce dis­com­fort and inflam­ma­tion. You can con­tin­ue with the NSAIDs as direct­ed till the burn feels bet­ter. Ask your phar­ma­cy for an over-the-counter, 1% cor­ti­sone cream – and apply to the red areas sev­er­al times a day for a few days.

Wear loose, cool cloth­ing so that your skin can ​‘breathe’ (cot­ton, linen and silk are great for this) and the fab­rics don’t rub against the sun­burn. And hope­ful­ly it doesn’t need to be said – stay out of the sun!

stay out of the sun

Stay hydrated

Dehy­dra­tion is a com­mon side effect of sun­burn – as burns tend to draw flu­id to the skin’s sur­face and away from the rest of the body. That’s why it’s essen­tial to rehy­drate by drink­ing extra liq­uids imme­di­ate­ly and while your skin is heal­ing — includ­ing water and sports drinks that help to replen­ish electrolytes.

it’s essen­tial to rehy­drate by drink­ing extra liq­uids imme­di­ate­ly

Seek help if necessary

If you or a child has severe blis­ter­ing over a large por­tion of the body, has a fever and chills, or is woozy or con­fused, you should seek med­ical help. Remem­ber not to scratch or pop blis­ters, which can lead to infec­tion. If the sun­burn includes red streaks or is ooz­ing pus, get a skin check in case of infection.

get skin checked in case of infection
Get a full body mole check

Learn from the burn!

Your skin will heal even­tu­al­ly, but the real dam­age has already been done. So ​‘learn from the burn’ and com­mit to pro­tect­ing your skin from the sun every day – espe­cial­ly between 10am and 4pm dur­ing the day­light sav­ings months. See our handy sun pro­tec­tion tips.

And remem­ber, if you have been sun­burned at least five times in your life­time, you have a high­er risk of devel­op­ing melanoma and oth­er skin can­cers. So check your skin reg­u­lar­ly your­self (here’s how) and book a Full Body MoleMap as soon as pos­si­ble to detect any signs of melanoma ear­ly. For author­i­ta­tive infor­ma­tion about skin, vis­it DermNet NZ.

Regular screenings at Australian skin cancer clinics can significantly reduce the risk of late-stage diagnosis and improve treatment outcomes.

MoleMap Team

At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.

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