How to Relieve Sunburn Itch and Pain

Getting a sunburn can ruin a portion of your summer fun. Sometimes we end up with a sunburn even when applying sunscreen.

  • What are the dangers of getting a sunburn?
  • How do you protect yourself?
  • How do you get rid of the pain and itch that occurs when you get a sunburn?

A few weeks ago, our family traveled to Seattle to spend time with my sister-in-law and fiancé. 

We spent several hours on their boat having fun taking in the sites. I put sunscreen on my face, arms, and thighs. Unfortunately, I must have skipped my lower legs because they both became sunburned.  

I have fair skin and burn quickly. The following day, I woke up in pain. I decided to write a post on sunburns because I know this is a common problem, especially during the summer.

It is crucial to protect your skin from the sun. It is unhealthy to get a sunburn, but it can also ruin a vacation or weekend, and the pain may last for several days.

The Risks of Getting a Sunburn

The most significant risk involved with sunburn is skin cancer. This is the most common type of cancer in the United States. Melanoma risk is substantially increased with a severe sunburn early in life. The good news is this risk factor (sunburn) is easy to modify.1


It is important to begin protecting a child’s skin from the sun early in life. Use sunscreen and cover the body with adequate clothing when venturing outdoors. 

Remember, sunburns can also happen when it is cloudy.  




How to Protect your Skin from the Sun

If you plan to be in the sun, be prepared. Sunburn can happen in as little as 15 minutes. 

Here are some tips to help avoid those pesky sunburns.

  • Stay in the shade when possible. Find a tree or building that blocks direct sun exposure. Late morning through midafternoon is when the sun’s rays are the most damaging.
  • Wear sunglasses. It is essential to wear sunglasses that protect your eyes against UVA and UVB light. 

Wear a hat. Wide-brimmed hats are best, but a baseball cap is better than nothing. Hats can protect your head and neck from damaging rays. 

  • If you are bald like me, this is especially important!
  • Cover your skin with clothing. It is best to cover as much of your body as possible. There are many clothing options available designed to block the sun.
  • Use sunscreen. I know this is obvious, but sunscreen can be easy to forget. It is important to reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming, sweating, or drying off with a towel. Always use a sunscreen with a high SPF (at least 15) and be sure it blocks UVA and UVB.


Treatment of Sunburn Pain and Itch

If you find yourself suffering from a sunburn, there are some steps you can take to ease the discomfort. I often get questions about what to do for sunburns. As a pharmacist, my primary role is to help people live a healthier life. Here are my recommendations for the treatment of sunburn.


Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) – This will help with the pain and inflammation that can accompany a sunburn. I recommend taking ibuprofen with food to avoid stomach upset. Be sure to consult your physician or pharmacist if you take other medications or have kidney disease before taking ibuprofen.  


Acetaminophen (Tylenol) – Although acetaminophen doesn’t help with inflammation, it is a safe pain reliever. It also has fewer drug interactions than ibuprofen. One strategy is to alternate ibuprofen and acetaminophen.


Aloe Vera Gel – This is a cooling, soothing, moisturizing product that can significantly decrease the itch and pain that occurs with a sunburn. 

We always keep a bottle of this in our refrigerator just in case.


Take cold showers or baths – This can help cool the skin. After bathing, gently pat yourself dry and apply a moisturizer. This helps trap moisture in your skin and can relieve dryness.


Drink plenty of water – Those of you who follow this blog know I am a proponent of adequate hydration.  


Allow skin blisters to heal – If your skin blisters, do not pop them. 

These blisters help protect your skin from infection. If the blisters are severe, seek medical attention.

There are many products available at your local pharmacy that are specially designed to treat a sunburn. Here is a link to one that I recommend:

SunBurnt After Sun Gel

We have all experienced a sunburn at some time in our lives. Even with the proper preparation, it happens from time to time. The important thing is to limit sunburns as much a possible. The more you sunburn, the higher your risk for skin cancer. This is especially true for younger individuals.  


We all love to be outside, especially during beautiful weather. Getting exposure to the sun is vital for our mental health and also increases vitamin D levels. Just be sure to protect your skin!


I hope you are all having a great summer. Remember to exercise, eat whole foods, drink plenty of water, and spend as much time with your “happiness elements” as possible.  


Michael Brown in Lab Coat with arms crossed

Michael J. Brown, RPh, BCPS, BCPP

Mr. Brown is a Clinical Pharmacist specializing in pharmacotherapy and psychiatry.

Read Michael’s story here.

Feel free to send Michael a message using this link.



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