Soothing a Sunburn

Question

What is the best thing to put on my child’s sunburn to help soothe it and promote healing?

Dr. Greene's Answer

With sunburn or any other burn, there can be ongoing damage as long as the skin is hot, so cooling off is wise, such as in a lukewarm bath. Some dermatologists recommend cold milk on the skin to help soothe the pain. Once you’ve cooled off, the greatest ongoing damage comes from the skin drying out, so a soothing moisturizer is good for as long as the burn lasts. I like using one with Aloe Vera in it. Cool compresses are great, followed by moisturizer containing aloe and/or vitamin E oil.

As for the “caine” remedies for sunburn pain, I’m not a big fan. They can cause allergic reactions and don’t work all that well.

I like ibuprofen for the pain. It works best when the pain is caused by inflammation (red, tender, hot, or swollen tissue.) It is anti-inflammatory so it stops the pain at the site of the inflammation. Acetaminophen can work instead or in addition, but it does not help inflammation. It just works at the pain centers in the brain.

Medical Review on: September 27, 2008
About the Author
Photo of Dr. Alan Greene
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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