Sunburn: Ways to Ease The Pain

The subject matter of sunburn is something that needs little discussion. We know, of course, that this condition is an inflammation of the skin with burning and redness, and that overexposure to ultraviolet radiation, especially from sunlight, is the main cause.

Sometimes though, we forget that sunburn does not fully develop until hours after the exposure. We often cannot tell by feeling at the time whether or not we are overexposing our skin to the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sunlight. At times, too, we forget that both direct sunlight and sunlight reflected from a water surface can cause sunburn.

Certain drugs or medications applied to the skin or taken orally may increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight; the same may be said of certain diseases. Also, dark-skinned people are known to be less sensitive to sunlight than those who are fair-skinned. It is likewise quite disturbing that many people do not realize the danger posed by severe sunburn over a large part of the skin surface; crippling or even death is possible in extreme cases.

In a severe case of sunburn, there is pain, swelling, and blistering with subsequent peeling over the affected skin surface. The affected person may have fever for several days and also experience gastrointestinal upset. Later, a toxic condition develops, which may be due to some decomposition of the deeper skin tissues damaged by the harmful rays of the sun.

For mild cases of sunburn, cool wet compresses or dressings may be applied continuously over the affected skin surface. The cold compresses should be made of a saturated solution of aluminum acetate (example, Burow’s solution) diluted with 20 times its volume of cold water. This should be applied continuously until pain and smarting are eased.

Easing the pain caused by sunburn may also be achieved by getting into a lukewarm starch bath. This is done by soaking in a tub of bath water stirred with two cupfuls of Linit starch.

It is suggested that the above treatments be followed with an application of a skin moisturizer. The use of topical anesthetics (example, benzocaine) may also help ease the pain caused by sunburn. In severe cases of sunburn involving large areas of skin, bed rest may be necessary.

In case there is fever, nausea and chills, a doctor should be called at once. The doctor will provide treatment specific for the problem on hand. In serious cases of sunburn, the doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid cream.

In preventing sunburn, remember that the application of sunscreen or sunblock lotions and creams prior to exposure to the sun is quite effective.


1. “Sunburn,” on eMedicineHealth

2. “Sunburn,” on Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia, updated on April 12, 2007, by Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Associate, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA

3. “Sunburn – Home Treatment,” on WebMD

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