Sunburns: How To Manage Them?

sunburns in asian woman

We all enjoy sunny winter afternoons and want to get sun soaked on beaches. But sunbathing comes with a disclaimer! Too much exposure to sun for long durations causes your skin to become irritable and red, causing sunburns. In this article, find out how to manage sunburns: starting from prevention, to treatment options of the various degrees of sunburn.

Solar radiation is made up of visible light, ultra-violet (UV) rays, infrared rays, radio waves, X-ray and gamma rays. Out of all these radiation, UV rays are the most harmful. Prolonged exposure to UV rays is a major reason for sunburns and can also cause premature ageing of the skin and eyes. A World Health Organisation (WHO) report highlights that exposure to UV rays is one of the major risk factors behind skin cancer, and up to 60,000 deaths occur in a year worldwide due to too much exposure to UV rays. Apart from sun exposure time, genetics is another important factor making a person more susceptible towards developing sunburns.

Although staying away from direct exposure to sunlight is the best way to prevent sunburns, it is not a feasible solution for most people due to their jobs or routine activities. Here, we highlight some of the ways to prevent and manage sunburns. 

4 Ways To Prevent Sunburns 

1. Limit exposure time to sun 

UV rays are most intense during midday and thus, it is good to avoid direct sun exposure during these hours. If you have to go out, wear protective covering like scarfs, hats and sunglasses. 

2. Using sunscreens 

Sunscreens are protective creams that you can apply to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun. The active ingredient in sunscreen either absorbs UV rays or reflects them, thereby preventing the rays from reaching the inner layers of your skin. However, using sunscreen does not allow you longer hours in the sun and not all sunscreens act against both UVA and UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using broad spectrum water resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more. Various formulations of sunscreen are available, such as cream based, gel based, sticks or sprays.

Find out more about sunscreens in our article.

3. Know your UV index 

The UV index is a measure of how strong the sun’s UV rays are. A UV index between 3-5 possess moderate risk of developing sunburn. With every increase in UV index, the risk of developing a sunburn increases and time it takes for sunburns to develop decreases. 

4. Wear UPF clothing 

Ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) shows the level of penetration of UV rays through any fabric. A fabric with UPF of 30-49 offers good protection against UV rays and those above 50 are excellent as they block 98% of sun rays from penetrating. UPF labels are a great indication of how much a fabric can protect you from sunburns. 

Treatment of Sunburns 

First degree sunburns 

You should take the following steps once you get a first degree sunburn:

  • Take immediate measures and limit further sun exposure completely till recovery
  • Always cover the sunburned area while outside
  • Take cool baths to reduce the heat and burning sensation
  • Do not completely dry your skin after bathing; apply moisturisers to damp skin to prevent dryness
  • Use moisturisers with aloe vera or soy
  • Drink extra water and take proper rest
  • You can take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) (e.g., ibuprofen) to reduce any swelling or redness
  • Keep your house cool, or try to stay in cooler areas and wear loose clothings
  • Bathing with certain herbs or essential oils such as apple cider vinegar, oatmeal, lavender, chamomile essential oil or soda also help soothe the sunburn
  • Avoid skin drying agents such as soaps or perfumes which may worsen the sunburn
  • Apply cold compress to the affected area which will help in reducing inflammation and heat
  • Completely avoid creams such as benzocaine which will further aggravate your burn

Second degree sunburn 

Sometimes, the sunburn is severe and reaches the second layer of skin (i.e., epidermis), becoming a second degree sunburn. These sunburns result in blistering and require medical attention. These sunburns should not be treated at home. They posses a higher risk of dehydration, infection and sepsis. 

Food products or home remedies for sunburns 

There are certain food products which can be applied over the sunburns for effective treatment. 

  • Cool milk 
  • Yoghurt 
  • Vitamin E 
  • Cucumber 
  • Boiled, peeled and mashed potato 
  • Cornstarch 


As the old saying goes: prevention is better than cure. While there are several measures to treat sunburns, the best way to go is to adopt preventive measures like using sunscreen with SPF of more than 30, wearing UPF clothes or limiting midday exposure. By adopting these smart and safe options, you can continue to enjoy the sun at the beaches and outdoors.

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