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Sunburn treatments

Skin that has been sunburnt turns red within hours – and the sunburn will continue to develop for the next one to three days.

Most people who have been sunburnt also peel – which is the body’s way of shedding dead and damaged skin cells and making way for the new skin underneath.

Treating sunburn

If you have been sunburnt follow this self-care advice:

  • Give your skin the time it needs to repair and build up another protective barrier of cells. Stay out of the direct sun until the redness, peeling and pain have disappeared.
  • To ease the pain of sunburn, take cool baths or showers. This method of easing the pain of sunburn should not be used on children under five years of age unless advised by a healthcare professional.
  • Leave any blisters alone, do not break them open or pop them. If they open on their own, clean the area with water to keep it clean and avoid infection.
  • Do not apply anything to the burn, including ointment, cream, oil, butter, spray or any other household remedy. There is no evidence of any cream or tablet significantly helping to reduce the severity of sunburn, or increase the rate of recovery from sunburn.

Stay out of the sun until the sunburn has cleared. When you do go out, stay in the shade, slap on a hat, slip on protective clothing, make sure the sunburnt area is also covered and apply plenty of sunscreen. Being sunsmart in this way will reduce your chance of getting sunburnt again.

As soon as it becomes comfortable to do so, apply a moisturising cream to the burnt area to keep it moist and supple. Even though it will not prevent peeling, moisturising will help prevent the new skin below from drying out.

Consider taking ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling, redness and discomfort.

You should see your doctor immediately for severe sunburn, or if you are experiencing blistering, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or severe pain.

Preventing dehydration

It's important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of clear, non-alcoholic fluids. If you have an existing medical condition, check with your doctor about how much water is right for you.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your sunburn, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: August 2017

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