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Sunburnt? Here’s how to take care of your skin

Whether you neglected to put on sunscreen, forgot to reapply it, or simply missed a spot, it’s not uncommon to experience sunburn. For many of us, the pain and discomfort that comes with a sunburn is a reminder of just how important it is to protect our skin from the sun.

Sunburn symptoms include:

● Skin that is hot to the touch

● Dark pink or red skin in exposed areas

● Pain

● Itching

● Swelling

● Tenderness

● Blisters

● Peeling

● Severe sunburn can also cause headache, fever and nausea, and there is an associated risk of dehydration.

These symptoms usually appear a few hours after you’ve been overexposed to the sun, however, can get worse over the next day or so.

Here’s how to take care of your skin after you’ve been sunburnt:

Take cool baths and showers

The cool water from a bath or shower can help to reduce the swelling from your sunburn and soothe the burning sensation. When you’re in the water, avoid harsh soaps, scrubs or loofahs.

Once you’re out of the water, be gentle with the skin to prevent further irritation. Dry yourself by gently patting the skin with a towel as opposed to rubbing. Once you’re dry, be sure to apply a gentle moisturizer to help replenish the moisture in the skin and prevent itching and dryness.

Use a cold compress

Using a cold compress can also help to reduce swelling and soothe the burn. Don’t apply ice directly to the skin as this can be painful. Instead, fill a clean sealable bag with ice and cover it with a cloth before applying to the skin. A cold, damp washcloth can also help.

Use the compress for as long as necessary to relieve your pain and swelling. The longer you can keep the cold up, the less severe the sunburn will be.

Apply a cooling gel or cream to the area

Not only can a spray, cream or gel (such as aloe vera) provide relief from pain and itching when applied directly to the skin, but it can also help to cool the sunburn.

In fact, one study found that the use of aloe vera reduced healing time and may be effective in healing first- and second-degree burns, including mild to moderate sunburn. This may be in part due to the fact that aloe vera contains a compound that has been found to be an effective anti-inflammatory agent.

Capital Chemist stocks a range of after sun products that can help to relieve the pain, discomfort and burning of the skin after sunburn and help to add extra moisture back into the skin. Speak to your local pharmacist to find which one is right for you.

Don’t scratch

It’s common to want to relieve the itching sensation by scratching at your skin. However, doing so will only cause further damage to the skin.

Sunburnt skin may be especially tender and is sensitive to irritation, so keep your fingernails away and apply a soothing cream or gel instead.

Seek pain relief

For especially a painful sunburn, you may need more than just topical relief.

Pain and fever relieving medicines such as oral paracetamol can help to deal with the pain and discomfort.

Protect your skin

If you’ve been burnt and your skin is now peeling, it’s especially important to protect this red, ‘new’ skin from further sun exposure, as it is exceptionally prone to sunburn.

Even if you’re not peeling, you should protect your sunburn from further damage by the sun by avoiding exposure, seeking shade when outside, applying sunscreen, wearing clothing that covers the sunburnt areas and wearing a hat and sunglasses.


Overexposure to the sun doesn’t just harm the skin, but it can also be extremely dehydrating. Making sure that you rehydrate by drinking plenty of water or electrolyte drinks might not necessarily directly help your skin, but it will make you feel a lot better if you’re dehydrated.

Keep an eye out for other symptoms

Excessive exposure to UV rays can also cause conditions like sunstroke, and severe sunburn may require further medical attention. See a doctor if:

● Your sunburn gets worse or bleeds

● You feel dizzy or nauseous

● You have chills

● You’re vomiting

● You’re in severe pain

Monitor your skin

Overexposure to the sun puts you at a greater risk of developing skin cancer. Be on the lookout for symptoms including:

● Pale, red, small lumps on the skin

● Thick, scaly, red dry patches of skin that can look like ulcers and bleed

● Small sores on the skin that are crusty and don’t heal

Speak to your doctor if you notice any of the above signs, or are concerned about any changes in your skin following sun exposure.

Avoiding sunburn in the future

Sunburn isn’t just unpleasant, but it’s also damaging to the skin. Remember to practice sun safety in the future by:

● Applying sunscreen before you go outside

● Making sure you’re applying enough sunscreen (at least a tablespoon for each limb, and the front and back of your body, and at least half a teaspoon for your face, neck and ears)

● Reapplying sunscreen every two hours (or more if you’re sweating or swimming)

● Check that your sunscreen is 50 , that it’s in date and hasn’t been sitting in a hot car glove compartment since last summer!

● Seeking shade when outside in the sun

● Wearing clothes that protect your skin

● Wearing a hat

● Wearing sunglasses

Sun Care brochure (111KB PDF)

You may also be interested in the following:

Sun Care for Kids
Can babies wear sunscreen
How to apply sunscreen properly

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Acknowledgement of Country

Capital Chemist acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we operate, live and gather as employees, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.