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How to Treat A Sunburn

Knowing how to treat a sunburn is the second most important thing you should know about sunburns.

Knowing how to prevent a sunburn is even more important!

A sunburn can turn a wonderful day at the beach ...

kids playing in waves

... into a miserable evening.

Even a mild sunburn is painful - and a severe sunburn can be excruciating!

Symptoms of Mild Sunburn

A mild sunburn is actually a first degree burn.

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you the symptoms of sunburn! As you know, after spending too much time in the sun, you will have

  • red skin that is
  • warm to the touch and that
  • hurts, with
  • no blisters or open wounds.

Here's what my leg looked like after a day by the lake. As you can see, I was wearing short socks, and no sunscreen.

sunburned leg

Symptoms of Severe Sunburn

An extreme sunburn is a second degree burn. As well as the redness and heat, there will be

  • blisters, similar to the friction blisters you get from wearing poorly-fitting shoes
  • oozing
  • intense pain

How to Treat a Sunburn


Here are the basics on how to treat a sunburn:

  • Keep the burned area clean.
  • Drink plenty of water, since a burn draws fluid to the surface of the body and away from the vital organs.

To relieve pain, apply any of these:

  • cool compresses
  • a paste of baking soda and water
  • calamine lotion
  • aloe vera gel - either straight from the plant or from a bottle (Read the label! I prefer 100% aloe vera gel. Some products are mostly chemicals with just a dab of aloe gel.)

Here's my son after a full day in the lake. I applied sunscreen thoroughly in the morning, but neglected to reapply it soon enough. He was very sore that evening and night - and all the next day!

sunburned back


If you have a severe sunburn, you'll need to take extra care. Here's how to treat a sunburn that is serious:

  • Keep the area clean.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Apply the pain relieving remedies listed above.
  • Watch for signs of infection.
  • Do not break sunburn blisters. The skin of a blister provides a sterile covering that protects the body from infection. Cover the blisters if necessary to keep them intact. Read about first aid for blisters here.

Seek medical attention if the patient

  • doesn't begin to improve after a few days
  • has severe blisters over most of the body
  • develops a high fever
  • has chills, fever or nausea
  • becomes delirious
  • has unbearable pain

Home remedies for sunburn

The goal of any remedy is to relieve pain while the burn heals. Here are some interesting home remedies:

  • apple cider vinegar
  • fresh cucumber slices
  • grated potato
  • yogurt
  • cold tea bags
  • oatmeal mixed with egg whites
  • honey

(Please note that I haven't tried any of these, and I'm not making a recommendation! Use your own common sense, and check with your doctor if you are unsure about how to treat a sunburn.)

Preventing a sunburn is much easier than treating a sunburn!

boy in SPF sunsuit

Click here to learn about how to apply sunscreen, and for other strategies for preventing sunburn.

Now that you know how to treat a sunburn, click here to review more first aid skills you may need while camping.

Click here to return to the Complete Family Camping Guide home page.

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