Sunburn: Care Instructions

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A sunburn is skin damage from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Most sunburns cause mild pain and redness but affect only the outer layer of skin. These are called first-degree burns. The red skin might hurt when you touch it. These sunburns are mild and can usually be treated at home.

Skin that is red and painful and that swells up and blisters may mean that deep skin layers and nerve endings have been damaged. These are second-degree burns. This type of sunburn is usually more painful and takes longer to heal.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Use cool cloths on the sunburned areas.
  • Apply soothing lotions with aloe vera to sunburned areas.
  • Try anti-inflammatory medicine (like ibuprofen) to reduce pain, swelling, and fever. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Don't try to stop peeling after a sunburn. It's part of the healing process.
  • Protect your skin by using sunscreen, hats, and loose-fitting, tightly-woven clothes.

Caring for blisters

Blisters often heal on their own.

  • Don't try to break blisters. Leave them alone.
  • Don't remove the flap of skin covering the blister unless it tears or gets dirty or pus forms under it. The flap protects the healing skin underneath.
  • If a blister ruptures, gently clean it with mild soap and water and loosely cover it. Put a thin layer of petroleum jelly on the bandage before you put the bandage on. This will keep it from sticking to the blister.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have signs of needing more fluids. You have sunken eyes, a dry mouth, and you pass only a little urine.
  • You have signs of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.