How to Treat Itchy Skin From a Sunburn

Sunburns can occur after excessive exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or a tanning bed. Symptoms may not appear until several hours later. Superficial sunburns are red, itchy and tender, while second-degree burns begin to form blisters within the first 24 hours after exposure. Severe sunburns may cause permanent skin damage that develops into skin cancer later in life, according to At-home treatments are usually effective for sunburns, but patients should be alert to the possibility of skin infections developing.

A girl is applying sun tan lotion. (Image: Monkey Business Images/Monkey Business/Getty Images)

Step 1

Apply cold compresses or take a cool shower to reduce some symptoms of sunburn.

Step 2

Examine your skin to see if blisters have formed.

Step 3

Apply moisturizing lotion or aloe vera to intact skin. Cover blisters with a light bandage or gauze dressing.

Step 4

Take over-the-counter diphenhydramine for itching. Do not drive if this medication makes you drowsy.

Step 5

Avoid scratching the skin. If open areas form, apply antibiotic cream and cover them.

Step 6

Apply moisturizing lotion or aloe vera to the skin when peeling begins and continue until it is healed. Peeling is a natural reaction that usually occurs three to eight days after the sun exposure, according to

Step 7

Drink at least eight glasses of water a day to prevent dehydration.

Step 8

Stay out of the sun to prevent further damage.

Things You'll Need

  • Moisturizing lotion or aloe vera

  • Over-the-counter medication

  • Cold compresses


Preventing a sunburn is the best solution. During peak daylight hours, stay out of the direct sun. Wear light-colored clothing, a hat and sunscreen with SPF of 30 or more whenever you are outside during the day.

Steroid creams and pills are not effective for sunburn treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Benzocaine sprays marketed for sunburn treatment may irritate the skin, cautions


Sun poisoning is a severe reaction to the sun that can cause nausea, fever, chills, a rash or even death. Seek emergency medical attention if sun poisoning is suspected.

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