NHS tips for treating sunburn and when you should consider seeing a doctor

Man with sunburnt back, mid section, close-up - stock photo
Went taps off? You might be feeling the burn -Credit:Peter Cade

With the burst of summer sun and heat now over, some will be feeling the aftermath of the warm spell Scotland enjoyed.

Following the hottest day of the year where 25.7C temperatures hit northern Scotland, you may have inadvertently got yourself sunburnt in the roasting weather.

The mini heatwave will have been irresistible although you may be left feeling the burn. If your skin is feeling hot and sore, it's time to give your body some soothing treatments for the ache and irritation.

Here are some crucial pointers you need to know about sunburn treatment, when to seek professional medical advice, and the significance of keeping your SPF 50 topped up.

Treatment for sunburn

Close up of woman's arm as she applies sunscreen onto it
Soothe your burn with cold water, plenty of fluids and painkillers should you need them -Credit:Kinga Krzeminska

Generally speaking, sunburn tends to resolve by itself and takes approximately a week for skin condition to normalise.

Even though your sunburn would eventually heal, the intervening symptoms could be painful and quite aggravating. Alleviating the presenting symptoms cannot expedite the healing process, but there are ways you can lessen the discomfort.

According to advice from NHS Inform Scotland, treating skin inflamed by sunburn can be done by:

  • Cool the skin by sponging it with cold water or by having a cold bath or shower – applying a cold compress such as a cold flannel to the affected area may also help.

  • Drink plenty of fluids to cool you down and prevent dehydration.

  • Take painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol to relieve any pain – aspirin should not be given to children under 16

When you should consider seeking medical help

In certain circumstances, sunburn can be severe and may necessitate medical intervention. Severe sunburn might require specialised burn creams and dressings, which are typically available at most GP surgeries, although hospital treatment may be necessary in some instances.

Symptoms of severe sunburn include skin blistering or swelling (oedema), chills, a high temperature of 38C or above (or 37.5C or above in children under five), dizziness, headaches, and nausea.

If you're suffering from sunburn and experiencing these symptoms, it's advised to contact your GP or the NHS 24 service on 111 for guidance.

The risks of sunburn

Avoiding sunburn is crucial as it's associated with several serious health conditions.

Typically, these conditions develop over an extended period, so a single instance of sunburn shouldn't cause concern. However, repeated sunburn over several years could increase your risk of certain diseases and conditions.

Potential health issues resulting from sunburn include:

  • actinic (solar) keratoses – rough and scaly pre-cancerous spots on the skin

  • skin cancer – including both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer

  • eye problems – such as photokeratitis (snow blindness) and cataracts

  • premature ageing of the skin and wrinkling

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