5 Home Remedies for Sunburn

Woman with a sunburn on her back

SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

A small amount of sun exposure is good for you, especially since it is a natural source of vitamin D. But too much sun exposure can damage your skin. One of the most common types of sun damage is sunburn. A sunburn is a type of skin burn that results from prolonged and unprotected sun exposure.

At some point in your life, it is very likely that you will experience a sunburn. It is estimated that more than one out of every three Americans experience sunburn every year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Many cases of sunburn are mild in severity, but you should not take a sunburn lightly. If you look at sunburned skin under a strong microscope, you will see that the skin cells and blood vessels have been damaged. As a result, the skin has been weakened and can bruise more easily.

Shielding your skin from the sun with the help of sunscreen, sun-protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses can help reduce the risk of sunburn. However, you may experience sunburn at some point due to a lapse in coverage. Depending on the severity of your sunburn, you may be able to alleviate your symptoms with natural home remedies. Here is what you need to know about sunburn and how to treat it.

Causes of Sunburn

Sunburn is caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, whether it is from sunlight or artificial tanning beds. There is a misconception that you can only get a sunburn on warm days with clear skies.

While you can certainly experience sunburn on sunny days, you can also get too much sun exposure on days that are cloudy, rainy, snowy, foggy, windy, and cold. This is because the sun’s rays are reflected off surfaces like snow, water, and sand. Improper use of sunscreen may also contribute to an increased risk for sunburn. Here are some tips for applying sunscreen:

  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours.
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
  • Choose a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection.
  • Wait 15 minutes after applying sunscreen before going into direct sunlight.
  • Use approximately 1 ounce of sunscreen throughout your entire body.
  • Remember commonly forgotten or hard-to-reach areas like your back, ears, and neck.

While everyone can experience a sunburn, some people are more prone. People with lighter skin tones are more susceptible to skin damage, such as sunburns and increased risk of skin cancer, from prolonged sun exposure.

Tan and darker skin tones have more of a brown pigment called melanin, which blocks some UV rays. Because lighter skin tones have less of this pigment, some people are more sensitive to high UV indexes and are more likely to burn.

Sunburn Symptoms

Symptoms of sunburn can include the following:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Peeling
  • Dry, itching skin
  • Blisters


Home Remedies for Sunburns

Depending on the severity, a sunburn can take several days or a couple of weeks to fully heal. During that time, you may experience uncomfortable side effects like pain, peeling, redness, swelling, itching, blisters, and more. Sunburns ultimately require time to heal, but natural home remedies can help alleviate your symptoms.

Take a Cool Bath or Shower

Sunburns can feel warm or hot to the touch. This is because sunburn is essentially a form of skin inflammation.

To calm the inflammation, cool down the skin by taking a cool bath or shower. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends taking frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain.

Apply a Topical Moisturizer

After taking a cool bath or shower, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying a topical moisturizer to your skin. If your skin is damp, this will help trap in water.

Moisturizers that contain aloe vera or soy can be especially soothing. Some areas of the sunburn may be more painful than others. You can apply an over-the-counter cortisone cream to apply to these areas.

Use a Cool Compress

If submerging yourself in cool water does not sound appealing, another home remedy for sunburns is cooling the area locally with a cool compress. Simply wet a paper towel or washcloth with cold water and apply it to the affected area.

Ice is a common home remedy for the pain and inflammation associated with sunburn. Avoid applying ice directly to the skin, but wrapping ice or an ice pack with a towel is an option. Never ice the skin for more than 20 minutes at a time.

At the start of symptoms, ice the skin for 10 minutes once an hour. As symptoms improve, ice the skin for 15 to 20 minutes three times per day.

Drink Lots of Water

Dehydration can be a side effect of sunburn. When the skin is burned, fluids are drawn to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body. This increases the risk of dehydration.

When healing from sunburn, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to replenish your electrolytes. Staying hydrated can also help lessen symptoms.

Take Over-the-Counter Painkillers

Sunburns can be painful, and pain relievers can help. If needed, take painkillers like ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen to reduce swelling, inflammation, and pain from sunburns.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

Most sunburns are mild and will go away with home treatment in a few days. But there are times when sunburns can be serious and require medical care. Contact a healthcare provider right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Intense pain
  • Fever and chills
  • Severe blisters
  • Headache, confusion, or fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Severe fluid loss (dehydration)


A Word From Verywell

Sunburns are common, but they can be prevented. Practice proper sun protection by wearing sunscreen every day and reapplying as needed. There may be a time when you forget to reapply sunscreen and end up with a painful sunburn. If that happens, knowing these home remedies and having the essentials on hand can help your skin recover.

Natural remedies can help calm some of the symptoms of your sunburn, but they may not always be the answer. If your sunburn is severe, you may need to see a healthcare professional for further treatment. It’s likely time to see a medical professional if you develop severe skin blisters or symptoms of heat stress.

Was this page helpful?
10 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Skin cancer: Quick facts from the Surgeon General.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Sun damage: Protecting yourself.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology. How to apply sunscreen.

  4. American Cancer Society. Are Some People More Likely to Get Skin Damage from the Sun?

  5. John Hopkins Medicine. Sunburn.

  6. American Academy of Dermatology. How to treat sunburn.

  7. University of Michigan Health. Using Ice and Cold Packs.

  8. Skin Cancer Foundation. Sunburn.

  9. Mayo Clinic. Sunburn: First aid.

  10. Fairview Health Services. Sunburn (sun poisoning).