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What can I use to treat a bad sunburn?


Products you can use to treat bad sunburns include over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen for pain; these may also help with fever. Aspirin and ibuprofen are also anti-inflammatory drugs and can help with swelling from sunburns. For children under age 18 years, acetaminophen is preferred, but you also can give ibuprofen. Check with a doctor or pharmacist first because these medications can interact with other medications or worsen certain medical conditions.

Aloe vera is the most commonly used topical gel for sunburn relief because it helps soothe the skin. Gels that combine aloe vera with a topical anesthetic such as benzocaine or lidocaine can cause an allergic reaction and more skin irritation. Many doctors also suggest using a moisturizing lotion such as Eucerin® or Aquaphor® to help keep the skin moist. Moisturizers will not prevent peeling or blistering, but they do keep your new skin from drying out.

If the burn is severe enough, your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids such as prednisone to help stop inflammation. SSD® (silver sulfadiazine) cream is a prescription drug commonly used to treat second- or third-degree burns, and also may be used for severe sunburns.

Other sunburn self-care tips:

  • Drink plenty of nonalcoholic fluids because sunburn can also cause dehydration.
  • Cool compresses or cool baths can help relieve the burning and itching.
  • Stay out of the sun, and do not use tanning beds or lamps.
  • Cover up when outdoors.
  • Always use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 15 or more.

What not to do:

  • Do not use petroleum jelly - or products containing petrolatum - or butter on the sunburn. These can worsen symptoms, and slow or prevent the healing process.
View sunburn relief products available on

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Answers to questions regarding information about medications or health conditions are not for diagnostic or treatment purposes and are not conclusive as to the presence or absence of any health condition. Consult your physician for diagnosis and treatment of your medical condition. The information provided is not a substitute for medical advice. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of the scientific literature may vary. Walgreens' terms of use and general warranty disclaimer apply to all services provided. If you are in need of immediate medical attention, contact your physician, poison control center or emergency medical professional. If you need to speak with a pharmacist for non-emergency matters, contact your local Walgreens pharmacist or call a pharmacist toll-free at 1 (877) 250-5823.

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