Pharmacist Advice

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Sunburn is damage to the skin that results from overexposure of the skin to UV rays.


There are three types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation - UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA causes premature ageing of the skin and contributes to the development of skin cancer. UVB causes sunburn and skin cancer. UVC is filtered out by the ozone layer and does not reach the earth's surface. Signs and symptoms of Sunburn appear 1 to 24 hours after exposure. They include redness, inflammation, scaling, pain, swelling, skin tenderness and blisters. If a large part of the body has been exposed, symptoms such as fever, chills, weakness and shock may occur.

NOTE: Experts believe that Sunburn during childhood can significantly increase a person's risk of developing malignant melanoma later in life.


  • Try to stay in the shade during the day, wear protective clothing, a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses and sunscreen. The period between 10am and 3pm is when the sun's ulraviolet radiation levels are highest.
  • Use a broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30+. Broad spectrum sunscreens block out UVA and UVB.
  • Apply sunscreen 30 to 60 minutes before going out in the sun - it takes 30 minutes for sunscreen to bind strongly to the skin. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or more frequently if you have been swimming, working or exercising outdoors or if you live in a humid climate.
  • It is important to apply an adequate amount of sunscreen - about 20g for one application to the major exposed parts of the body.
  • Remember that UVB rays pass through clouds, fog, 30cm of clear water and are reflected by snow, sand and bright sky, increasing exposure.

Treatment Options

As with all conditions, your Doctor is the best person to treat cases of severe Sunburn.

  • Your Doctor will advise you to stay out of the sun until the Sunburn has subsided.
  • Your Doctor may suggest cold water compresses to relieve the Sunburn symptoms.
  • Sun exposure causes changes in the skin (commonly referred to as premature ageing) and leads to the development of moles, seborrhoeic keratoses, solar kerotoses (sun spots), basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas. See your Doctor if there is any unusual skin condition or spot that has not healed within four weeks. This includes any lump, sore, ulcer or scaly patch on the skin, or white patch on the lips. New techniques for identifying skin cancers include the use of a hand-held microscope that is run over the body and can detect and take pictures of suspicious lesions. Regular skin self examination can detect Skin Cancer in its early stage. Ask your Doctor for advice. See the Skin Cancer topic on the Healthpoint for more information.

Diet Hints

  • Avoid eating hot and spicy foods as this can increase the body temperature and cause the skin to flush which may aggravate the pain of Sunburn.
  • Avoid alcohol as it increases the temperature of the skin and contributes to fluid loss.
  • Fresh salads and fruits are recommended as they are easy to digest, they have a high water content to help replace lost fluids and are high in the vitamins and minerals needed for tissue repair.
  • Try to drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of fresh, filtered water daily to avoid dehydration which is a common consequence of Sunburn. Fresh fruit and vegetable juices are also recommended for their high vitamin, mineral and fluid contents. Dehydration can cause; weakness, headache, fever and a rapid heart rate. Try to give the person with Sunburn plenty of fluids.


Supplements may only be of value if dietary intake is inadequate.

  • Antioxidants such as vitamin E and vitamin C help to reduce the severity of Sunburn symptoms.
  • The use of PABA in sunscreens is common as it has a proven protective effect against Sunburn when applied to the skin. Taking PABA internally may also help to reduce the severity of Sunburn, however, high doses may be harmful.
  • Aloe (Aloe vera) is a herb with succulent leaves. The gel from these leaves, when applied to sunburned skin, may help to improve the recovery time of skin damaged by Sunburn.
  • Calendula is a herb which may be taken internally or applied to the skin. Calendula reduces inflammation and has antiseptic and gentle astringent actions and calendula may help burns to heal more rapidly. Calendula should not be applied to broken skin and should be used in a gel or cream form as an ointment or oil-base may aggravate the Sunburn.

Pharmacist's Advice

Ask your Pharmacist for advice on Sunburn.

  1. The best advice to avoid skin damage is to stay out of the sun, especially between 10am and 3pm.
  2. Use a SPF 30+ broad spectrum sunscreen on the skin 30 to 60 minutes before exposure to the sun and reapply every 2 hours or more frequently if you have been swimming, working or exercising outdoors or if you live in a humid climate.
  3. Waterproof sunscreens are recommended for swimming and in situations where you are outdoors and are likely to sweat .Moisturising sunscreens are available for use every day because UV damage occurs every time you go into the sun, even on cloudy days. Ask your Pharmacist about low allergy sunscreens if you have sensitive skin.
  4. Always apply an even coating of sunscreen. All exposed skin should be covered with special care to lips, nose, ears and scalp. A special sunscreen lip balm is available.
  5. If you go out in the sun it is recommended that you wear protective clothing such as a long sleeved shirt or blouse, a broad-rimmed hat and sunglasses. Ask your Pharmacist about protective clothing and UV filter sunglasses to prevent damage to the eyes. Use sunglasses that are close fitting, preferably wrap around and have an eye protection factor of 10.
  6. Your Pharmacist may suggest pain relief tablets to help lower high body temperature and ease the pain of Sunburn.
  7. A cold water compresses applied to the skin will help to relieve the symptoms.
  8. Your Pharmacist may recommend a soothing gel e.g aloe vera and an aftersun moisturiser to relieve the symptoms of Sunburn and to help the skin to heal.
  9. Ask your Pharmacist about a suitable pain-relieving spray for Sunburn.
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