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Sunburned? What to Do if You Get Too Much Sun

Sunburned boy

It happens. As much as you try to apply and re-apply sunscreen, cover up, and avoid exposure when the sun's rays are at their height, you and your family will unfortunately, still experience sunburn on occasion. Read on to learn what to do right away and how to avoid future sunburn.

Immediate Sunburn Treatment

The best treatment is to apply cool (not ice cold) soaks or compresses. Follow this up with a soothing aloe vera gel or a healing ointment such as Aquaphor.

When to Call the Doctor

Usually, you don't need a doctor for a sunburn. However, it is important to seek medical attention if  you or your child:

  • Develop a fever.
  • Are burned over a significant portion of your body.
  • Develop extreme pain, nausea, or chills.
  • Show signs of infection, such as increased swelling or pus from an open blister.

Medication Use

If necessary, you can take over-the-counter pain medications like Advil, Aleve, or Tylenol, to relieve any pain. Topical steroids are of little value in treating sunburn because sunburn represents a toxic reaction, not an inflammatory skin reaction such as eczema. Although blistering areas can become infected, don’t jump right to the use of topical antibiotics because they have a significant chance of causing an allergic reaction.

Avoid Future Sunburn

Once you're on the road to recovering from your sunburn, resolve never to get another one. Why is avoiding sunburn important?

Too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays causes most skin cancers whether the UV exposure comes from the sun or man-made sources, such as indoor tanning lamps. With each sunburn, you damage your skin cells and increase your risk of developing basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer, as well as melanoma, the most serious skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer with more than 2 million cases diagnosed each year in the United States—more than all other cancers combined. Don't join the statistics. Skin cancer is entirely preventable if you follow a few time-tested tips:

  • When you're outdoors, protect as much skin as possible with clothing; wear a hat that protects areas such as the ears and scalp.
  • Some medications increase the chance of sunburn. The best-known culprit is the Cycline family of antibiotics. If you are on a regular dose of tetracycline or doxycycline, ask your provider about the risk before hitting the beach.
  • Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
  • Wear sunglasses that block UV rays.
  • Check your own skin about once a month.
  • Get your skin checked by your doctor.

It is possible to enjoy outdoor activities and keep your skin safe by taking a few simple precautions.

author name

J. David Dumornay, MD, MBA, FAAFP

J. David Dumornay, MD, MBA, FAAFP, is a physician with LG Health Urgent Care. Dr. Dumornay is a graduate of the State University of Haiti College of Medicine and served his residency at Lancaster General Hospital.

Call: 717-627-7687

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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