Dialog Box

Skin Health Institute

Treating sunburn


Treatment Treating Children Can I reverse sun damage?

Whether incidental or deliberate, unfortunately many of us have been sunburnt at some point in time. This information is provided to help you treat sunburn.

Sunburn may seem like a temporary condition, but it is not. Every sunburn causes irreparable damage to your skin and this accumulates over time.

Every burn adds to the signs of ageing like wrinkles and brown spots. It also dramatically increases the risk of skin cancers and melanoma. Research shows that five or more blistering sunburns throughout your life more than doubles your risk of melanoma. 


It is critical to protect your skin from the sun and avoid getting burnt at all costs.

If however, you find your skin has received too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays (we all make mistakes), there are steps you can follow to ease your discomfort and maybe, just maybe, limit the damage.

Step 1. Act Immediately

If you feel any change to your skin’s temperature or see any sign of reddening on yourself or your child, get out of the sun and start treatment immediately. Often sunburn doesn’t appear on the skin for hours after we have been out in the sun. A slight pink tinge could turn into a nasty red and blistering burn four hours later.

Mild sunburn will get better over one to two days if you keep out of the sun. Simple soothing treatments such as cool compresses and a moisturising cream are all that is needed."

Associate Professor Chris Baker

Skin Health Institute


Step 2. Cool the Skin

Move into a cool area and place a cold, damp towel on your skin for 10 to 15 minutes. This will help take some heat out of the skin. You can also take frequent, cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain.

Step 3. Moisturise

Your skin becomes dehydrated when it has been exposed to too much sun, so it is crucial you rehydrate it with a moisturiser. 

After a cool shower or bath, pat yourself dry but leave a little bit of water on the skin, then slather on a moisturising cream or lotion. After a sunburn, you will notice the moisturiser sinks into the skin much faster than usual. 

Moisturiser will help soothe the skin and make peeling and flaking less noticeable.

Step 4. Hydrate

All burns draw fluid to the surface of the skin and away from the rest of the body. 

For at least two days after a sunburn, you must drink extra water and watch for signs of dehydration: dry mouth, thirst, reduced urination, dizziness and sleepiness. Children are especially vulnerable, so seek medical advice if they appear unwell.

Step 5. Don’t hesitate to medicate

As soon as you see signs of sunburn, take a dose of ibuprofen. “There is some evidence that the early use of an anti-inflammatory medication (such as an NSAID) may reduce the severity and duration of sunburn, however medical advice is recommended,” says A/Prof Baker.

Step 6. Let your skin repair itself

You should never scratch, scrub, pick or peel your skin or break blisters. 

The skin of the blisters is protecting the underlying damaged skin, so do not pop them. Popping the blisters will mean that the skin dries out and can get infected, which can lead to other serious skin problems. 

If your blisters open on their own, clean that area with water to avoid infection. Blisters will gradually reduce in size as your sunburn heals.

Step 7. Seek Medical Advice

The majority of sunburns can be treated at home. However, if a blistering burn covers 20% or more of the body, you must seek medical attention. 

“If sunburn is severe, blistering can occur and you can become unwell, medical attention is need and, if very severe, admission to hospital may be required,” says A/Prof Baker. 

You should also see a doctor if you are experiencing headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or severe pain.

Step 8. Learn your Lesson

Consider your burn a warning that you have seriously damaged your skin and increased your risk of skin cancer and melanoma.

Don’t become one of the 12,500 Australians diagnosed with melanoma or 1,800 who die from skin cancer each year.

Check the UV Index every day, protect yourself from the sun and always wear sunscreen.

You can view the forecast UV Index each day on the Bureau of Meteorology website or by downloading the Sunsmart app.

Treating Children

Young skin is soft, blemish-free and beautiful. The last thing your child or baby’s skin needs is overexposure to the sun’s damaging UV rays.

Although young skin heals faster than older skin, it is also less able to protect itself from injury, including sunburn. You should be extremely vigilant when protecting your child or baby from the sun.

Babies under six months of age should never be exposed to the sun.

Babies and children over the age of one should receive very little sun exposure. However, if this is unavoidable, they should be protected with sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat, and protective clothing.

Unfortunately everyone make mistakes, so if your baby or child’s skin is sunburnt, these tips can help relieve their discomfort and possibly limit the damage:

Step 1. Remove your child from the sun immediately and seek medical attention

For a baby under one year old, sunburn should be treated as an emergency. Call your doctor immediately.

For a child one year or older, call your doctor if there is severe pain, blistering, lethargy, or fever.

Step 2. Cool the skin

Place your child in a cool shower or bath or apply cool compresses as often as needed.

Step 3. Hydrate

Make sure your child drinks extra fluids for the next two to three days. Carefully watch for signs of dehydration: dry mouth, thirst, reduced urination, dizziness and sleepiness.

Children are especially vulnerable to dehydration, so seek medical advice if they appear unwell.

Step 4. Don’t hesitate to medicate

Give your child ibuprofen as directed by your GP, to relieve pain. Do not use any medicated cream unless your child’s doctor advises you to.

Step 5. Moisturise

Help soothe and rehydrate your child’s skin with a moisturising lotion or cream. An aloe gel may also provide some comfort, however aloe gels have not been proven to benefit the skin after sunburn.

Step 6. Stay out of the sun

Your child’s skin is very sensitive, especially after a sunburn. Keep your child out of the sun entirely until the sunburn has cleared. You should always minimise your child’s sun exposure and, if sun exposure is unavoidable, make sure they’re wearing sun protection.

Step 7. Think Prevention!

Take this as a serious warning that your child’s sun-safety net has failed and vow to do better to protect them. That means using sunscreen, covering up with clothing and hats, wearing sunglasses, and avoiding the sun as much as possible.

Can I reverse sun damage?

It’s the question everyone asks after experiencing sunburn. How can I reverse the damage? According to A/Prof Baker, sun damage is essentially not reversible.

Not only is sun damage irreversible, it is also cumulative. So, every time you or your child is sunburnt, you are increasing your risk of skin cancers and melanoma.

Every burn adds to the risk of skin cancers and adds to the signs of ageing, such as wrinkles, brown spots and scaly sun spots"

Associate Professor Chris Baker

Skin Health Institute

Research has found that one or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. So sun protection has to start from birth.

A/Prof Baker said rather than worrying about how to reverse damage after a burn, we should be putting more energy into avoiding getting burnt in the first place.

“The good news is that with sun protection and sunscreens, you can prevent further damage,” A/Prof Baker said.

Using an SPF 50+ sunscreen correctly, wearing a hat, covering up with high UPF clothing (UPF 50+ clothing blocks more than 98% of the sun's UVA and UVB rays), putting on some sunglasses, staying hydrated, and trying to avoid sun exposure altogether when the UV Index is above 3 will help your skin stay protected and will prevent any further sun damage.

Sun damage image sourced from: http://dailymail.co.uk/female/article-2557746/The-unflattering-headshots-Model-turned-photographer-shoots-subjects-UV-light-reveal-shocking-sun-damage.html