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How to feel better after a bad sunburn

Sunscreen in the shape of an exclamation point on a bare shoulder at the beach.

Sunburned? Moisturizer can help. Just make sure it doesn't contain petroleum, lidocaine or benzocaine.

June 23, 2019—Everyone should wear sunscreen, but we've all had a day where we end up with red, tender skin—the result of overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet light. In short, a sunburn.

But you don't have to suffer through it. Here are a few tips from the American Academy of Dermatology and other experts for treating this painful skin condition.

Get indoors

A sunburn usually shows up in the first 6 to 12 hours after exposure, and the worst part of it will probably be within the first 24 hours. As your skin recovers, take extra care to stay out of the sun, wear loose cotton clothing and drink plenty of water.

Give your skin some TLC

To relieve your discomfort, try putting a cold, damp towel on your skin for 10 to 15 minutes a few times a day. Cool showers or baths are also helpful.

As for a soothing lotion, use moisturizers with aloe vera or soy. But make sure your lotion doesn't have petroleum, which traps heat in your skin, or benzocaine or lidocaine, which can irritate skin. For particularly uncomfortable areas, consider an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

Take a pain reliever

If your sunburn really hurts, try taking some ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help relieve the pain. However, don't give aspirin to a child with a sunburn. And check with your doctor if you have any concern about the effects of a medication.

Call the doctor

If you get blisters or have a fever, chills, headache or dizziness, get medical help. A severe sunburn should be treated like any serious burn and could require hospitalization. Also, blisters sometimes get infected and may require antibiotics.

Protect yourself

Finally, the best tip: Don't let sunburn happen again. Keep in mind that no matter how dark your skin is, anyone can get a sunburn. But those with fair skin, as well as infants and children, are more sensitive to the sun's rays. Some medicines, like the antibiotic doxycycline, and medical conditions, like lupus, can make your skin even more sun-sensitive. So follow your doctor's directions carefully—and make sunscreen an everyday habit.

Want more tips to prevent sunburn? Check out the advice in this infographic.

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