- A sunburn can become itchy one to three days after exposure.
- Soothe sunburn itching with a cool oatmeal bath, aloe vera, and anti-inflammatory medications.
- Steroid creams and allergy medications can also help with especially uncomfortable itching.
Spending too much time in the sun without protective clothing or sunscreen can lead to a red, prickling sunburn that leaves you scratching at your skin.
That itchiness is likely due to the fact that you've damaged the top layer of your skin, the epidermis, which contains many sensitive nerve endings.
A rare form of sunburn itch is hell's itch, also called "suicide itch", which is an unbearable case of itching. Hell's itch can be triggered by showers or lotions, so stay away from these if your skin feels like it's on fire.
But luckily, most cases of itchy sunburn are not as severe as hell's itch and can be treated with a few simple remedies. Here are 7 easy ways to get relief from sunburn itch.
1. Use a cool compress
Itching usually sets in between one and three days after you've been burnt — and can last for around 48 hours — so treating it early could help keep inflammation symptoms like itching at bay.
You can make a cool compress by putting a few ice cubes in a plastic bag, wrapping it in a soft cloth, and holding it to the sunburned area.
Make sure to avoid putting ice directly on your skin. Because if the skin becomes too cold, it can actually freeze the water in your skin, forming small crystals that can cut into nearby skin cells, causing more pain and damage.
2. Take a cool shower or bath
You can also take a cool shower or bath to cool down your skin, but make sure not to stay in the water for too long, as this can dry it out. This is because the water can remove the protective oils on your skin's surface that help to trap moisture.
Try soaking in a cool or luke-warm bath with colloidal oatmeal, which helps moisturize and soothe inflamed skin.
3. Use moisturizer
One important step to soothing sunburned, itchy skin is to keep it moisturized since dry skin can increase itchiness. Moisturizer even "brings down inflammation and helps skin repair" says Gary Goldenberg, MD, a dermatologist with a private practice. Make certain to use a fragrance-free moisturizer.
The best time to use moisturizer is right after showering or bathing, while your skin is still damp and pores are open, so you can lock in moisture.
Gentle moisturizers like Cetaphil or CeraVe are good options for sunburn treatment, says Goldberg.
4. Smooth on some aloe vera
The best way to apply aloe is to squeeze the gel straight from the plant and rub it on your sunburn. But if you don't have access to an aloe plant, look for a bottle that is as close to 100% aloe vera as possible.
5. Apply steroid cream
If moisturizers aren't providing enough relief for your sunburn symptoms, you may want to try using an over-the-counter steroid cream with 1 percent cortisone.
Cortisone or hydrocortisone cream improves inflammation symptoms like itching, redness, and swelling by blocking the chemicals that trigger your immune system's inflammatory response.
6. Take anti-inflammatory medications
Another way to reduce inflammatory sunburn symptoms like pain and itching is to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).
Another way to calm your symptoms is to take antihistamines, which reduce itching by blocking the release of chemicals that increase your immune system's inflammatory response. Try over-the-counter allergy meds such as cetirizine (brand name Zyrtec) or loratadine (brand name Claritin), which may offer some relief without making you drowsy.
7. Protect sunburned skin from the sun
Lastly, while you are healing from painful, itchy sunburn, one of the most important steps you can take is to stay out of the sun and avoid further damage, Goldberg says. Particularly during peak sun hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If you do go outside, wear clothes that cover your skin and are tightly woven, so that nothing shines through when you hold them up to a light. Unbleached cotton is a good option, as well as shiny fabrics that reflect light like polyester or satin.
Itchy sunburns can often be treated at home, but if severe itching disrupts your sleep or daily activities for more than two days, call your doctor since you may have a more serious condition of sun poisoning.
When you get a sunburn, UV rays damage the top layer of skin, which can result in pain, itchiness, and peeling for several days after the initial burn.
If you're experiencing itchiness due to a sunburn, there are a few remedies that can help you find relief.
As soon as you know you got a sunburn, you should apply a cool compress to reduce the skin's temperature and tamp down on inflammation. It can also help to take a cool shower a bath. Add some colloidal oatmeal to your bath to soothe and moisturize your skin.
You'll need to make sure your skin stays moisturized, so slather on aloe vera and soy-based moisturizers regularly.
To treat the itching, you can try applying a cortisone cream or taking anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen.
It's also important to stay out of the sun while your skin heals. When going out, wear protective clothing to avoid causing further skin damage.