How to Cleanse When You Have a Sunburn

Even looking at this blistering red sunburn can be painful.
Even looking at this blistering red sunburn can be painful.
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Most of us have suffered through it, more often as teens when "signs of aging" just meant mom jeans and reading glasses. It happens when the quest for a great tan goes horribly awry (or we just forget the sunscreen at home) -- it's a sunburn, and it hurts.

A sunburn indicates cellular damage caused by the sun's ultraviolent (UV) rays. The color change reflects the skin's attempt to repair itself. The effects of this damage can be long-term and severe, in the form of skin cancer; they can be cosmetically distressing signs of aging, like wrinkles and age spots, which come up years after the fact; and they can be short-term, painful, red, peeling, blistering days spent wondering how to get dressed, get moving and get clean without cringing.


Dressing and moving are probably unavoidable agonies in the days following a bad burn, but washing is actually fairly manageable if you know a few tricks. Here's how to get clean (and a bit more comfortable) when your skin is well-done.

First, skip the shower. The water pressure will probably hurt. What you really need is a bath.

Not the hot bath you usually sink into, though. The bath should be cool (not freezing cold). Sitting in cool water for at least 10 minutes should remove some of the heat and soothe the burning sensation. Always avoid using soap on sunburned skin, as it can be irritating. Don't scrub or shave, and gently pat skin dry with a soft towel -- no rubbing.

Next, it's a good idea to take advantage of the bath time to not only clean but also soothe your skin. Add baking soda (1/4 cup) or apple cider vinegar (2 cups) to a bath to help reduce pain and perhaps even promote healing [source: Candee].

Finally, apply an over-the-counter product after the bath. The best choices are fragrance-free, aloe-based lotions, high-quality moisturizers and calamine. Avoid anything containing benzocaine, which can cause a rash [source: UI]. Yogurt and straight aloe vera (directly from the plant) can also work wonders.

Home treatment is typically all you need to get through those few days of discomfort. Sometimes, though, in the case of a truly severe burn, medical treatment is necessary. Always call a doctor if sunburn results in a high fever, visual photosensitivity, pus, very large blisters, or if the burn doesn't start to heal within a few days.

For more information on sunburn, home remedies and related topics, look over the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Candee, Andrea. "Healing Solutions for Burns and Sunburns." Botanical.
  • Sunburn. The Children's Hospital.
  • Sunburn. Mayo Clinic.
  • Sunburn: take care of your skin. University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics.
  • Sunburn. eMedicineHealth.