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How to treat a sunburn on-the-go

Slathering up with sunscreen is the best way to prevent a sunburn. However, sometimes despite our best efforts, a sunburn occurs. If you do find that yourself or a family member has been overexposed, be prepared to treat the sunburn immediately.

Reduce inflammation

At the first sign of red, sunburned skin, take a dose of ibuprofen. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, taking an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen (Advil) will not only treat the symptoms, but it will also reduce the severity of the symptoms and may help prevent long-term skin damage. Acetaminophen (Tylenol), on the other hand, will help the symptoms, but won’t reduce inflammation.

Cool off

Cool sunburned skin immediately with a cold shower or bath. If you don’t have access to a bath or shower, wet a rag with cold water and gently pat burned skin. The gel from an aloe vera plant is a natural and effective way to soothe a sunburn. If you have access to an aloe vera plant, cut off a spear and peel it open to expose the gel, which can be rubbed directly on the sunburn. If you’re planning to be in the sun for long periods of time, it’s a good idea to toss a small tube of aloe vera gel (found at most drugstores) in your bag.


Hydrate burned skin right away. Start by drinking plenty of water to replace moisture from within. Moisturize topically with cream or lotion. Shawn Allen, a dermatologist in Boulder, Colorado, and spokesman for The Skin Cancer Foundation, recommends using a moisturizing lotion that contains Vitamin C and Vitamin E, which may help minimize skin damage. Continue to apply moisturizer at regular intervals to reduce peeling.

Get medical help if needed

While most sunburns can be treated at home, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends getting medical attention if a sunburn covers 20 percent or more of the body (the entire back of a child, for example). Dr. Allen also recommends seeing a doctor if a sunburn causes fevers or chills.

Heed the warning

If you or your children experience a sunburn, take precautions to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Just one blistering sunburn can double a child’s lifetime risk of melanoma. Be steadfast in your application and re-application of high-SPF sunscreen. Wear sun-protective clothing and a hat when in direct sunlight for long periods of time, and seek shade if you suspect a sunburn may be coming on.


More summer safety

Dealing with sunburned peeling skin

Tips and tricks to treat sunburned skin

Dealing with beach injuries

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