Treating sunburn 

If you have sunburn, you should avoid direct sunlight by covering up the affected areas of skin and staying in the shade until your sunburn has healed.

However, protecting your skin from the sun using sunscreen is better than treating it.

Read more about sun protection for your eyes and skin, including advice about sunscreen and how to apply it.

Most cases of sunburn can be treated at home by following the advice below.

Water

Cool the skin by sponging it with lukewarm water or by having a cool shower or bath. Applying a cold compress such as a cold flannel to the affected area will also cool your skin.

Drinking plenty of fluids will help to cool you down and will replace water lost through sweating. It will also help prevent dehydration (when the normal water content in your body is reduced, causing thirst and light-headedness). You should avoid drinking alcohol as it will dehydrate you even more.

Moisturiser

For mild sunburn, apply a moisturising lotion or aftersun cream, available at pharmacies. Aftersun cream will cool your skin and moisturise it, helping to relieve the feeling of tightness.

Moisturisers that contain aloe vera will also help soothe your skin. Calamine lotion can relieve any itching or soreness.

Painkillers

Painkillers can help relieve the pain and reduce the inflammation caused by sunburn.

Paracetamol can be used to treat pain and control fever. Ibuprofen is a type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that can help relieve pain, reduce inflammation and lower a high temperature.

Aspirin should not be given to children who are under the age of 16. 

Severe sunburn

Severe cases of sunburn may require special burn cream and burn dressings. Ask your pharmacist for advice. You may need to have your burns dressed by a nurse at your GP surgery.

Very severe sunburn cases may require treatment at your local accident and emergency (A&E) department.

Seeking medical help

If a baby or small child has been sunburned, or if blisters or a fever develop, seek medical advice from your GP or an NHS walk-in centre.

Alternatively, you can call NHS 111.

Hydrocortisone cream

In the UK, hydrocortisone cream isn't licensed to treat sunburn and cannot be sold for this purpose over the counter at pharmacies.

It's only licensed to treat irritant contact dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, insect bite reactions and mild to moderate eczema in children aged 10 years or over.

Page last reviewed: 12/03/2013

Next review due: 12/03/2015