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What Not to Do If You Get Sunburned

Posted on: August 5th, 2019 by Shany Batbold

Sunburn happens.  Beach days, boat rides, baseball games that go into extra innings. Good times and good memories. Sometimes you have so much fun in the sun that you forget to reapply sunscreen and you end up sunburned. Before you even get home, areas of your skin – most likely your face, back and shoulders – may become reddened and painful.

If these are your only symptoms and you don’t experience nausea, fever, headaches or chills symptomatic of heatstroke, nor see large blisters form on the sunburned areas, you can probably treat your sunburn yourself at home. Otherwise, go to an emergency room or urgent care facility as directed by your primary care physician.

For most people, sunburn will heal on its own.  Perhaps more important than doing something for your sunburn, is not doing anything that can aggravate the burned skin areas and make the sunburn worse.

According to the board-certified dermatologists at California Skin Institute, here is what to avoid if you are sunburned:


Reschedule any appointments you may have for a facial or body scrub. Lay off any home masks, loofahs or exfoliating scrubs – even those formulated for sensitive skin. When your skin is recovering from sunburn, exfoliating can expose the damaged layer which can interfere with the healing process and increase pain and irritation. Instead, use a gentle, soothing moisturizer.

Hot showers, baths and hot tubs

Hot water is going to hurt when it touches your sunburned skin. But even when your sunburn pain subsides, hot water can still be too drying. As your skin recovers from a burn, it needs to maintain all the natural moisture it can. There’s no need to take cold showers. A lukewarm or cool shower will do. The temperature should be no warmer than about 84 degrees.


Don’t use makeup to try to cover up a sunburn. The best way to heal a sunburn is to let your skin breathe. You can use a fragrance-free light moisturizer as long as it doesn’t contain petroleum or benzocaine. One that contains aloe or soy may be beneficial.

Perfume or cologne

Most perfumes and colognes contain alcohol which can be drying and irritating to sunburned skin. Other perfume ingredients and essential oils, like rosemary and lavender oil, may increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun. Skip spraying on fragrance for now. You can dab some onto the insides of your wrists if they are not affected by sunburn.

Tight Clothing

Again, letting your skin breathe is an important aspect of healing from a sunburn. As part of the healing process, your body is sending fresh blood cells to the injured areas to supply nutrients to create new healthy skin cells. Restrictive clothing that interferes with your circulation will not help that process. Wear loose, light clothing that shields the burned skin from the sun.

In addition to following these suggestions, drink plenty of water, take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, and try to give your skin a break from the sun for a few days if you can. If you need to spend time outdoors, check with your CSI dermatologist for the best sunscreen to apply to your sunburned skin.