First Aid for a Sunburn

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Sunburns are caused due to overexposure to the sun resulting in burnt, reddened, swollen and sometimes, blistered skin. Normal exposures to sunlight lead to the generation of vitamin D, however, over-exposure may lead to discomfort, premature aging and even cancer. Since, exposure to sunlight affects large regions of the skin, headaches, fatigue and fever may result.

Sunburns can be caused by the UV rays of the sun, areas at high altitudes and tanning beds and are often prone to occur in fair haired, light skinned people, prior to skin illnesses and infections like herpes or porphyria. Certain medications such as antibiotics and anti-psoriatic drugs may also risk to suffering from sunburns.


  • Redness of the affected area
  • Pain
  • Irritation
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Burning sensation
  • Skin shedding
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and flu-like symptoms
  • Infection
  • In severe cases, shock or death may even occur


In case of sunburn, follow these steps:

  1. Take a bath in cool water or apply a clean and moist, cool cloth on your body.
  2. Apply aloe vera-based creams, gels and moisturizers regularly.
  3. Do not puncture blisters. If blisters rupture on their own, do not peel them off to prevent infection; simply apply an antibiotic topical ointment on the blistered area.
  4. To alleviate pain, you may take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as aspirin, acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen. Take caution while giving children and teenagers aspirin, especially if they are suffering from chicken pox or other forms of infections. Do NOT give aspirin to children and teenagers suffering from flu-like symptoms, infections or chickenpox. Consult your doctor for further assistance on the matter.
  5. Refrain from using home remedies such as toothpaste, egg whites, butter or petroleum jelly on burnt areas as they may slow down the healing process and make the burn worse.
  6. Visit your doctor if the following symptoms arise:
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Severe dehydration
  • Loss of consciousness
  • If sunburn is accompanied with other medical complications


  • Keep your skin covered with light clothes as much as possible when you are out in the sun. Wear hats, long sleeved shirts, long pants etc.
  • Try to avoid overexposure and avoid prolonged tanning.
  • Apply sunscreen with a suitable SPF regularly to prevent sunburn when you are out in the sun. Sunscreens are to be applied after every 3 hours for increased effectiveness.
  • Avoid the usage of tanning beds.

Learn More

To learn more about sunburns and other burns, including chemical and 3rd degree burns enrol into a St Mark James first aid class. Classes can be found at our “locations” page. Training partners are located throughout Canada in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, Halifax, Windsor, Red Deer, Saskatoon and Regina.

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