How to heal a sunburn?
June 23, 2008 10:05 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with a horrible sunburn? It's so bad that my shoulders have second degree burns and it hurts to move my arms. Is there a way to lessen the pain or somehow make my skin heal faster? I got the burn on Friday and have been applying aloe vera ever since.
posted by alitorbati to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Take advil - it will reduce the inflammation and the pain
posted by metahawk at 10:08 PM on June 23, 2008

Take a pain reliever, like ibuprofen. You might need to see a doctor. Have you seen a doctor? It's Monday. I'm thinking you should see a medical professional. I hope you feel better. Be careful.
posted by LoriFLA at 10:09 PM on June 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Mayo Clinic agrees with taking aspirin (if you can) or an NSAID (Advil, Motrin, Aleve, what have you).

Also, try cool compresses and keep up with the aloe vera. Put Bacitracin or Neosporin on any broken blisters.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:10 PM on June 23, 2008

I have had this more than once. Cool compresses and showers, aloe vera, neosporin. In retrospect, I should have gone to the doctor and you should too.

Also, when the inevitable peeling begins, I found those half-scrubby/half-sponge sponges you use in the kitchen are dead useful. Scrubby side takes off the dead skin, sponge side wipes the bits away.
posted by schroedinger at 10:14 PM on June 23, 2008

I find that opening some vitamin E gelcaps and massaging the oil in is very helpful -- but I always do it right away. Not sure if it's helpful 3 days later, but if it were me I would give it a shot. Use plenty.
posted by Listener at 10:18 PM on June 23, 2008

What everyone else said, aloe aloe aloe, plus cool compresses, showers, and ibuprofen. Then try carefully applying Bag Balm on the blisters. It will help with both the pain and the healing skin. Good luck!
posted by Lynsey at 10:19 PM on June 23, 2008

Yes, go to the doctor.

Until then stick with the aloe and do try something like Advil.

This worked when I was a kid and got a bad sunburn: wet a thin towel and drape it across your shoulders and back. Then sit in front of a fan. It really will help suck the heat out.

Ouch! Just thinking about a bad sun burn brings up lots of bad memories. Sorry you're dealing with this! :-(
posted by wfrgms at 10:22 PM on June 23, 2008

Nthing the taking of advil, and keep heaping on the aloe. Most importantly, though, resist the urge to peel your skin off when it starts to peel, just let it do it on its own. 8 years ago (geez, has it been that long?) I got a terrible, terrible sunburn that caused my chest and back to blister, which was just awful. My little brother, in his infinite wisdom, came up to me when I was finally starting to shed and peeled off a big hunk of skin. I still have a scar (scar!) this many years later exactly where it was. Sun blisters are no joke. There's not really much you can do but be miserable and wait it out. I found that cool baths also helped to relieve a lot of the pain.

I don't know if you were using sunscreen, but my really bad burn happened while wearing 45 spf Bullfrog brand stuff. Turns out that my body needs a physical sunblock lotion rather than chemical. In the future, try using a sunblock that has either zinc or titanium dioxide in it, since it's got particles in it that are made to reflect the sun. Steer clear of the [prefix]benzones.
posted by phunniemee at 10:23 PM on June 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

Get several large tea bags and put them in a cool bath. The tannins will help sooth the burn. Put the wet bags directly on any parts that are really blistered. Sounds crazy but it does help. Also, take some advil.
posted by pearlybob at 10:30 PM on June 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

Run a cool bath, fill it with moisturiser oils, get some beer or wine to phase out your nerves, some good music or a book and sit in the bath until you're well past the prune stage-- it'll be calming because it's cool and obviously your skin is free to absorb any moisture it cares to. When you get out, just pat dry, or stand next to a fan for glorious relief.

Also, in a day or two you'll be over the initial pain that you're going through (hopefully) at that time, keep an alarm reminder every couple of hours to reapply moisturiser-- it's so easy to forget or assume you're over the worst.
If you don't remember your skin will be screaming for moisture but not in much pain, but as soon as you put any cream on, it'll send your nerves into absolute overdrive that's essentially torture. Don't go there.

In my experience, aloe tends to build up a film on your skin, so when I'm burnt I often alternate aloe with water to clean that film off, then I'll reapply the aloe-- seems to help and makes you feel less.. sticky..

Best of luck to you, hope you're over it soon.
posted by Static Vagabond at 10:30 PM on June 23, 2008

In addition to advil, use a topical lotion with a local anesthetic -- basically, anything ending with -caine. There used to be an Americaine on the market that was good for sunburns. You could also get neosporin with added benzocaine. (I *think* it's benzocaine. It's one of those.)
posted by mudpuppie at 10:45 PM on June 23, 2008

Vinegar is an old folk remedy (I learned about it as a kid from Archie comics, of all places!), though I think it's most effective if you use it within the first 48 hours of a burn. But it should still take some of the sting out between applications of aloe and doses of ibuprofen, if you don't mind smelling like a tossed salad till it dries. Put it in a spray bottle (white or apple cider vinegar's fine -- dilute it with a little water if you prefer) and spritz it on.
posted by scody at 10:57 PM on June 23, 2008

Seconding the tea method. When I was about 14 I got blisters from a bad sunburn over my entire back, and tea bags packed on them helped a lot. Use black tea for this- the cheap kind is fine. Sitting in a tea bath as suggested above or soaking towels in strong, cold tea and then putting them on your shoulders will accomplish the same thing, but probably less effectively. Depending on how long you leave the tea on you, this will temporarily stain your skin tea colored due to the tannin, so don't panic if/when that happens.
posted by version control at 11:05 PM on June 23, 2008

Dittoing the above, particularly lots n lots of heaping aloe. Solarcaine is a nice topical too since it's an aerosol and doesn't have to be rubbed on. Having experienced the same, I couldn't stand the pain of a shower. Room temp baths worked better for me.
posted by whatisish at 11:31 PM on June 23, 2008

Try applying Noxema (the original creamy kind) to the outer areas (not the blisters). It will take the feeling of "heat" out of your skin.
posted by amyms at 11:38 PM on June 23, 2008

Oops, spelled it wrong. It's Noxzema.
posted by amyms at 11:38 PM on June 23, 2008

In addition to all of the above, drink a lot of water or sports drink. Big surface burns like this dehydrate you.
posted by shiny blue object at 5:15 AM on June 24, 2008

Take tepid baths with 1/2 pound of baking soda mixed in. Don't rinse off. Asprin and fluids.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:17 AM on June 24, 2008

Use a spray with *caine in it, or a lotion if you can stand it. Solarcaine is my favorite brand, but harder to find these days.

I thought that Aloe was ruled out years ago as being slightly more effective than water and possibly worse, trapping the heat in the skin, and too prone to make clothing/bedding adhere to skin. As an ingredient, it's okay, but I wouldn't use it straight. Use something that doesn't cake/get gunky so badly, and with Vitamin E. You can use ice packs, but you want to put so much fabric between ice and skin that it only feels cool, not cold.

Aspirin if you can, naproxen or ibuprofen if aspirin's no good. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) does not reduce swelling, but if you can't have NSAIDS it'll help the pain some. Fast treatment of the swelling would have mitigated the damage a lot more, and you may find you still feel bruised for a week or more after the pinkness fades. Be really careful about bra straps and bag straps or anything else you carry over your shoulder - let that deep skin heal as unmolested as you can, or you may end up with longer-term pain and scarring.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:18 AM on June 24, 2008

Last time I had a bad burn I did the cool showers+ibuprofen thing, but also MOISTURIZE. Cetaphil, Aveeno, or a good cocoa butter lotion. Topical lidocaine is your friend and will make the pain less for a while - they make neosporin+pain or generic neosporin+pain.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:26 AM on June 24, 2008

Hydrocortisone cream (1%, available over the counter at the pharmacy) works wonders. I learned about this after a terrible sunburn at Key West, from the pharmacist. It literally saved my vacation.
posted by Houstonian at 5:31 AM on June 24, 2008

When you start to heal- an insane amount of itching will set in. Benedryl.
posted by mistsandrain at 5:58 AM on June 24, 2008

Yar, doctor for sure. I got some horrible sunburn as a child and got a shot of something and a few perscriptions which made living bearable.
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:12 AM on June 24, 2008

Banana Boat makes Sooth-a-Caine, a spray-on aloe vera gel with lidocaine and menthol. It's wonderful.
posted by candyland at 7:15 AM on June 24, 2008

After several blistering burns as a child (hey, it was the 70's), I have two home remedies that I remember working- yogurt and shredded potatoes. I would lay on my stomach, and my mom would slather either yogurt or shredded potatoes over my back and leave it for 15 minutes or so. I would say pretty thickly... like a quarter of an inch of yogurt or half an inch of potatoes. It really sucked the heat out and reduced the pain. And it was so freaking silly, it always cheered me up.
posted by kimdog at 7:35 AM on June 24, 2008

Be careful with the moisturizer you use- some of them are formulated to slough off dead skin particles. For me, anything with oatmeal does this. Make me peel, might do the same for you which wouldn't be a good plan for treating damaged skin. You probably want something old-school like Neosporin. Seals in the moisture, has antiseptics so you don't get infections. I also find that using it reduces scarring. Also, aspirin over NSAIDs, if you can.
posted by gjc at 7:53 AM on June 24, 2008

Chiming in late here.

For the smaller areas that hurt, I HIGHLY recommend 2nd Skin Burn Pads

I had a very bad burn on my leg from a motorcycle accident and I kept these on all the time. It keeps the area cool and constantly hydrated. The pain was very tolerable and the burn healed quickly with very minimal scarring. I swear by them for any small burns.

I do realize that this product is a bit small for a large area sunburn, but it would help for a few places that might be chafing against a shirt or something.
posted by trixare4kids at 10:20 AM on June 24, 2008

Thanks for the help, everyone
posted by alitorbati at 1:46 PM on June 24, 2008

I got a gollywhopper of a sunburn across my back when I was in high school. My doctor wrote me some silver nitrate cream and a bottle of hydrocodone - I guess he figured that he might as well sedate me for the worst of it.

aside: I got so stoned on that stuff I actually watched Shanghai Surprise. It really was as bad as they said, but I didn't care.
posted by workerant at 1:59 PM on June 24, 2008

for future reference, I ended up using a ton of aloe vera gel and applying wet towels. After about a week and a half of paing and a few days of horrible peeling i was all back to normal. Thanks again.
posted by alitorbati at 4:02 PM on July 16, 2008

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