Sunburn Self Care: What to Eat, Drink, and Apply to Your Skin


Summary of key points

Sunburn is a common and painful skin condition caused by overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. While it is essential to take precautions to prevent sunburn, it can still happen, leaving your skin red, tender, and uncomfortable.
In this blog article, we will explore effective self-care strategies to help soothe your sunburn, reduce inflammation, and promote healing.

Sunburn Recovery 

Oh, the vivid memory of my recent sunburn still lingers, and I can’t help but share some self-care tactics that truly saved the day. Sunburns are a painful reminder of the sun’s unforgiving rays, and I’ve learned firsthand the importance of taking care of your skin when it’s been scorched.

After a day at the beach where I foolishly underestimated the power of the sun, I returned home with my skin as red as a lobster. But I wasn’t about to let that ruin my day or the days to come.

If you find yourself nursing a sunburn, self-care practices remedies are a pathway to recovery, and a reminder to show your skin the love and attention it deserves after a sun-soaked adventure. Take it from someone who’s been there – with a little patience and a lot of TLC, you’ll be back to feeling comfortable and enjoying the sun again in no time.


Eating the right foods can help your body recover from sunburn more effectively. Proper nutrition can reduce inflammation, support skin healing, and boost overall health. Here’s what you should consider in terms of nutrition when dealing with sunburn:

Anti-inflammatory foods:

Consuming anti-inflammatory foods can help reduce the redness and swelling associated with sunburn.

Examples of anti-inflammatory foods include:

    • Fruits and vegetables: Eat various colorful fruits and vegetables, such as berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and broccoli, which are rich in vitamins and antioxidants that combat inflammation.
    • Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries are exceptionally high in antioxidants and can help reduce skin damage.
    • Omega-3 fatty acids: Incorporate foods like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel), flaxseed, and walnuts, which contain omega-3 fatty acids known for their anti-inflammatory properties.

Foods rich in antioxidants:

Antioxidants can help protect your skin from further damage and aid in the healing process. Include foods high in antioxidants in your diet, such as:

    • Vitamins A, C, and E: These vitamins are essential for skin health and can be found in foods like sweet potatoes (vitamin A), citrus fruits (vitamin C), and nuts and seeds (vitamin E).
    • Zinc: Zinc plays a role in skin repair and can be found in lean meats, whole grains, and nuts.

Foods to avoid:

Some foods and spices can exacerbate inflammation and discomfort, so it’s best to avoid them, including:

    • Spicy foods: Spices like chili peppers can increase skin irritation and make your sunburn feel worse.
    • Processed or salty foods: These can lead to dehydration, which is counterproductive when recovering from sunburn. Avoid foods high in sodium.

Eating a balanced diet rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich foods can promote skin healing and reduce the severity of sunburn symptoms. Nutrient-dense foods help your body repair damaged skin cells and minimize the long-term effects of sun exposure.

Topical Treatments

Applying the right topical treatments can provide relief from the discomfort of sunburn and promote healing. Here are some effective topical treatments for sunburn:

Aloe vera gel:

  • Aloe vera is well-known for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Apply pure aloe vera gel directly to the sunburned areas of your skin. It can provide immediate relief from pain and redness.
  • Refrigerating the aloe vera gel can enhance its cooling effect.

Cool compresses:

  • Soak a clean cloth or towel in cold water and gently apply it to the sunburned areas.
  • Cold compresses can help reduce inflammation and provide relief from the burning sensation.

Oatmeal baths:

  • Oatmeal is known for its skin-soothing properties.
  • Add colloidal oatmeal to a lukewarm bath and soak for 15-20 minutes. Pat your skin dry gently afterward.
  • Oatmeal baths can relieve itching and irritation.

Over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream:

  • Low-strength hydrocortisone creams can help reduce inflammation and itching associated with sunburn.
  • Follow the instructions on the product label for application.

Avoiding irritants:

  • While treating your sunburn, avoid using scented lotions, harsh soaps, or abrasive scrubs, as these can further irritate your skin.
  • Opt for fragrance-free and gentle skincare products.

These topical treatments can immediately relieve sunburn symptoms and promote a more comfortable healing process. Be gentle when applying treatments to avoid further skin irritation, and always follow the recommended instructions for usage.


In some cases, medications can help manage sunburn symptoms. Here are some common medications that can be used for sunburn relief:

Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers:

  • OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help reduce pain, inflammation, and fever associated with sunburn.
  • Follow the dosing instructions on the product label, and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or underlying medical conditions.

Antihistamines for itching:

  • If your sunburn is causing intense itching, over-the-counter antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) can provide relief.
  • Follow the recommended dosage instructions on the package, and be aware that some antihistamines may cause drowsiness.

Consultation with a healthcare professional if necessary:

  • If your sunburn is severe, covers a large area of your body, or is accompanied by blisters, fever, or signs of infection, it’s essential to seek medical advice.
  • Your healthcare provider may prescribe stronger medications or provide specific guidance on managing your sunburn effectively.

Always use medications as directed and consult a healthcare professional if you have any doubts or concerns about their usage.

While these medications can help alleviate sunburn symptoms, they should be part of a comprehensive care plan that includes hydration, nutrition, and topical treatments for optimal recovery.

Sunburn Prevention

Preventing sunburn is the most effective way to avoid the discomfort and potential long-term skin damage associated with excessive sun exposure. Here are some essential sunburn prevention strategies:

Emphasize the importance of sunscreen:

  • Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 30 or higher.
  • Apply sunscreen generously to all exposed skin areas at least 15 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours or more frequently if swimming or sweating.

Protective clothing and hats:

  • Wear lightweight, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats to shield your skin from the sun’s rays.
  • Consider clothing with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating for added sun protection.

Seeking shade during peak sun hours:

  • Stay in the shade, especially from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Shade provides a natural barrier against harmful UV radiation.


  • Protect your eyes from UV damage by wearing sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB rays.
  • Sunglasses with larger lenses or wraparound styles offer better coverage.

Limit sun exposure for children and infants:

  • Children and infants have sensitive skin, so it’s crucial to protect them from the sun.
  • Please keep them in the shade, dress them in protective clothing, and use sunscreen formulated for children.

Be aware of reflective surfaces:

  • Surfaces like water, sand, and snow can reflect the sun’s rays, increasing your risk of sunburn.
  • Take extra precautions and apply sunscreen more frequently when near reflective surfaces.

Regular skin checks:

  • Perform regular skin self-examinations to monitor for any changes or unusual moles, which could be signs of skin cancer.
  • Consult a dermatologist for a professional skin examination, especially if you have a family history of skin cancer.

Practice sun safety year-round:

  • Remember that sun protection is essential year-round, not just during summer months or sunny days.
  • UV rays can still penetrate cloud cover, so use sunscreen and protective clothing as needed.

Incorporating these sunburn prevention measures can significantly reduce your risk of sunburn and protect your skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation. Prevention is critical to maintaining healthy, sun-damage-free skin.

Skin Care

Proper skin care is essential during and after a sunburn to promote healing and minimize discomfort. Here are some critical skin care practices to follow:

Gentle cleansing:

  • Use a mild, fragrance-free soap or cleanser when bathing or showering.
  • Avoid hot water, which can further dry out your skin. Opt for lukewarm water instead.

Avoiding scrubbing or exfoliating:

  • Do not scrub or exfoliate your sunburned skin, which can worsen irritation and peeling.
  • Gently pat your skin dry with a clean, soft towel after bathing.

Moisturizing with fragrance-free lotion:

  • Apply a gentle, fragrance-free moisturizer to your sunburned skin several times daily.
  • Moisturizers help lock in moisture, prevent excessive drying, and soothe skin.

Sunburned skin peeling:

  • Sunburned skin may start to peel as it heals. Do not forcibly peel or pick at your skin, leading to scarring and infection.
  • Allow the peeling process to happen naturally, and continue to moisturize to minimize itching.

Avoid additional sun exposure:

  • While your skin is healing from a sunburn, it’s crucial to protect it from further sun exposure.
  • Continue using sunscreen and protective clothing and seek shade to prevent additional damage.

Stay hydrated:

  • As mentioned earlier, maintaining proper hydration is essential for overall skin health and recovery from sunburn.
  • Drinking enough water can also help keep your skin hydrated.

Be patient:

  • Sunburn can take time to heal completely. Be patient and allow your skin the time it needs to recover.
  • Continue with your skincare routine and other self-care measures to support the healing process.

Taking good care of your sunburned skin is essential for minimizing discomfort, preventing complications, and promoting a faster recovery. 

Rest and Comfort

Getting adequate rest and ensuring your comfort is crucial when dealing with sunburn. Here are some tips to help you relax and recover:

Adequate sleep:

  • Ensure you get enough sleep, as rest is essential for your body’s healing processes.
  • Sleeping in a relaxed and comfortable environment can help alleviate discomfort.

Loose-fitting clothing:

  • Wear loose, breathable clothing made from natural fabrics like cotton to avoid friction on sunburned skin.
  • Tight or restrictive clothing can increase irritation.

Avoiding tight or restrictive garments:

  • Bras, waistbands, and tight clothing can be uncomfortable when you have sunburn on sensitive areas.
  • Choose clothing that doesn’t pressure sunburned skin to reduce pain and irritation.

Cool compresses and baths:

  • Applying cool compresses or taking cool baths can provide immediate relief from the burning sensation of sunburn.
  • Ensure the water is not too cold to avoid shocking your skin.

Over-the-counter pain relievers:

  • As mentioned earlier, OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help reduce pain and make you more comfortable.

Stay out of the sun:

  • Avoid additional sun exposure while you are recovering from sunburn. This will prevent further damage and discomfort.

Taking measures to ensure your comfort and rest will not only help you feel better but also support the healing process. Healing from sunburn can take time, so it’s essential to be patient and prioritize your well-being during this period.

Complications and When to Seek Medical Attention

While most cases of sunburn can be managed with self-care measures, there are instances when complications may arise or the sunburn is severe enough to require medical attention. Here’s what to watch out for and when to seek professional help:

Blistering or severe pain:

  • If your sunburn leads to large blisters, this can be a sign of a more severe burn and may require medical assessment and treatment.
  • Severe pain not relieved by over-the-counter pain relievers should also prompt a visit to a healthcare provider.

Signs of infection:

  • Watch for signs of infection, such as increased redness, warmth, swelling, pus, or a fever.
  • If you suspect an infection, seek immediate medical attention, as it may require antibiotics.

Allergic reactions to treatments:

  • Some individuals may have allergies or sensitivities to specific topical treatments or medications.
  • If you experience hives, itching, swelling, or difficulty breathing after using a specific product, discontinue its use and seek medical help.

Pre-existing medical conditions:

  • If you have pre-existing medical conditions that may be exacerbated by sunburn, such as a history of skin cancer or immune system disorders, consult a healthcare professional for guidance on sunburn management.

Large or widespread sunburn:

  • If a significant portion of your body is affected by sunburn, especially if it’s accompanied by severe pain, it’s advisable to seek medical evaluation.

In cases of sun poisoning:

  • Sun poisoning, characterized by severe sunburn symptoms like nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and dehydration, requires immediate medical attention.

Persistent or worsening symptoms:

  • If your sunburn symptoms persist or worsen despite self-care measures, consult a healthcare provider.

Don’t hesitate to seek medical advice. Healthcare professionals can provide proper assessment and treatment to ensure a safe and effective recovery.


As I reflect on my recent sunburn ordeal, I can’t help but realize how it transformed into a lesson in self-care that extended far beyond just healing my skin. Sunburns have a way of reminding us of the importance of nurturing our bodies and minds, especially when we’ve been a little too careless under the blazing sun. My journey through the discomfort of sunburn was not just about applying soothing aloe vera gel and staying hydrated; it was a profound reminder of the significance of self-compassion.

Throughout the recovery process, I discovered that self-care is not just a matter of tending to the physical symptoms of sunburn but also about finding the inner strength to heal. It’s about listening to your body’s signals, recognizing when it’s time to rest and recuperate, and understanding that healing takes time. The patience I cultivated during this time was a valuable life lesson, teaching me that, much like sunburn, some things simply cannot be rushed.

In addition to patience, I also learned the importance of prevention. Sunburns can be avoided with some simple precautions. So, moving forward, I make it a point to apply sunscreen diligently, wear protective clothing, and seek shade when the sun is at its peak. It’s a small price to pay for the comfort of enjoying the outdoors without the painful consequences of overexposure.

As I gradually saw my sunburn heal, I realized that the discomfort it brought had a silver lining. It served as a powerful reminder of the need to savor every sunny day with caution and care. While the sun offers us warmth and light, it’s essential to remember that it can also be unforgiving, and our skin deserves our attention and protection.

So, whether you’re currently nursing a sunburn or simply looking to safeguard yourself in the future, keep in mind that sunburns are not just physical ailments; they are opportunities to practice self-care and appreciation for the wonderful gift of our skin. Treat your skin with kindness, stay hydrated, embrace patience, and above all, cherish the lessons that sunburns bring, reminding us to bask in the sun’s glory responsibly and with a newfound sense of self-compassion.


Makayla is a medical expert and editor @ WholeYum.


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