Fast Relief for Sunburn

You forgot to apply your high-SPF sunscreen at the beach and ended up with an uncomfortable, lobster-like sunburn. Though sunburn can take a few hours to develop after an extended time outdoors, treating it quickly is the key to minimizing the unpleasantly warm, irritated and itchy feeling that can result. No topical product can cure a sunburn, but several at-home remedies can alleviate symptoms.

Non-Medicinal Relief

First, get out of the sun to reduce the severity of the sunburn. You may feel your skin tightening or feeling unusually warm even before the sunburn has fully developed. Take a shower or bath in tepid water to cool off. Or, soak a small towel in cool water, wring it out, and apply to the sunburned area. Remember to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated: sunburn wicks moisture away from the skin.

Topical Medication

At the first sign of redness, gently apply an aloe vera gel or moisturizing lotion for sensitive skin to rehydrate and soothe the affected area. If you experience pain with the burn, use an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream with .5 to 1 percent strength to relieve skin discomfort. Don't use petroleum jelly, because it prevents sweat from escaping the burned area.

Anti-inflammatory Medication

After getting a sunburn, your muscles may feel sore or the affected area may feel stiff. Take an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as aspirin or ibuprofen to lessen inflammation of the skin and alleviate mild soreness. Follow dosage instructions on the label. Always consult a doctor before giving aspirin to children over two years old and to teenagers to avoid Reye's syndrome, a potentially fatal condition linked to aspirin.

Duration of Treatment

Begin applying cold compresses and moisturizing gels as soon as symptoms appear. Continue taking non-prescription pain relievers according to label instructions for as long as pain lasts. Avoid irritating delicate, healing skin by staying out of the sun and taking cool showers. Most sunburns fade in time, ranging from a few days to a couple weeks, but topical treatments will be most effective in the first 48 hours after burning.

When to Seek a Doctor's Help

Sunburns over a large area of the body may be accompanied by fever, soreness and fatigue. Severely sunburned skin may develop blisters as a part of the healing process. In some cases, the blisters may break and become infected. Seek a physician's advice if you have any symptoms associated with infection, including increased pain and swelling, the presence of pus in open blisters or reddish streaks leading away from the area. Your doctor may prescribe NSAID pain relievers or corticosteroid treatments.

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