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How to Stop Sunburn Itch

Updated: Jun 17

A Man Experiencing Sunburn Itch.

Sunburn can be a painful and irritating experience, but what many people don't realize is that the itch that comes after can be just as annoying. Sunburn itch can make you want to scratch your skin off, and if you do scratch, it can make your sunburn worse. It's important to know how to deal with this uncomfortable itch so you can enjoy the sun without the extra annoyance. In this guide, we'll show you how to manage and reduce sunburn itch so you can feel better as quickly as possible.

What is a Sunburn?

Sunburn is what happens when your skin is exposed to too much UV light from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds. When this happens, the skin becomes inflamed and you can start to feel redness, swelling, and pain. One of the most annoying symptoms of sunburn is the itch. If you've ever had sunburn, you know how much it can make you want to scratch. Sunburn can range from mild to severe, and while mild sunburns may go away on their own, more severe ones can cause long-term skin damage and an increased risk of skin cancer.

Why Do Sunburns Itch?

The itching feeling from sunburn happens because of how the skin reacts to UV rays. When the skin absorbs UV rays, it damages the DNA in skin cells. This prompts the release of chemicals like histamines that cause inflammation. These chemicals make blood vessels expand, leading to redness and swelling. The mix of these chemicals with nerve endings causes the itchy feeling of sunburn.

Types of Sunburns & Symptoms

Sunburns come in different levels of severity, and each level comes with its own set of symptoms. Here are the different types of sunburns:

Mild Sunburn

  • Redness

  • Slight tenderness

  • Peeling after a few days

  • Mild itching

Moderate Sunburn

  • Intense redness

  • Swelling

  • Blisters

  • Peeling after a week

  • Pain

  • Persistent itching

Severe Sunburn (Sun Poisoning)

  • Deep red or purple skin

  • Severe pain and swelling

  • Large blisters

  • Fever and chills

  • Nausea and headache

  • Intense itching that can disrupt sleep and daily activities

What Is "Hell’s Itch" and Its Symptoms?

"Hell's Itch" is an intense form of sunburn itch that can occur in some people. It usually starts around 48 hours after the initial sunburn and can last for a few days. People with "Hell's Itch" often describe the itch as feeling like their skin is on fire. Some of the symptoms of "Hell's Itch" include:

  • Unbearable itching

  • Intense burning sensation

  • Restlessness

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Tingling and prickling sensations

  • Itchiness that feels like it's coming from beneath the skin

Hell’s Itch can make sufferers completely distracted, making it hard to focus on anything else. It usually comes unexpectedly and can happen even in people who have had many sunburns without these extreme symptoms. This means that no matter how much experience you have with sunburns, you can still get Hell’s Itch.

What Causes This Itch?

The exact reasons why "Hell's Itch" happens are not fully understood. However, it is believed to be caused by a combination of the skin's sensitivity to the sun's damage and the body's inflammatory response. When the skin is damaged by the sun, it releases chemicals that cause inflammation and make the skin more sensitive. This, combined with the body's inflammatory response, can lead to "Hell's Itch." This combination of factors can turn a simple itch into a really uncomfortable and frustrating experience for those who suffer from it.

Risk Factors to Consider

Knowing the risk factors associated with sunburn and sunburn itch can help you prevent them. Some of these factors are:

1. Skin Type

People with fair skin are more likely to get sunburned. This is because they have less melanin, which is a pigment (or color) in the skin that helps protect it from the sun's UV rays. The less melanin you have, the less protection you have from the sun's harmful UV rays. This means that if you have fair skin, you're more likely to burn when exposed to the sun. If you have fair skin, you need to be especially careful in the sun, even if you’ve never had a problem with sunburn before.

2. Geographical Location

The closer you live or travel in areas closer to the equator (the middle part of the Earth), the stronger the sun's rays are and the more likely you are to get sunburned. This is because the sun's rays are stronger and more intense in these locations, making it easier to get a sunburn. So if you live in or travel to these areas, be sure to take extra care to protect your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays.

3. Altitude

When you go to higher altitudes (like mountains), there's less atmosphere (air) between you and the sun. This means there's less protection from the sun's UV rays. Because of this, you're more likely to get sunburned if you're at a high altitude. So if you're planning to visit a mountain or other high-altitude place, make sure you use sunscreen and protective clothing to protect your skin from the sun's harmful UV rays.

4. Time of Day

The hours between 10 AM and 4 PM are when the sun's UV rays are the strongest. This means that if you're outside during these hours, you're more likely to get sunburned because the sun's rays are more intense. So if you're planning on spending time outdoors during the middle of the day, be sure to use sunscreen, wear protective clothing, and seek shade when possible.

5. Medications

Some medications, like antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and even some herbal supplements, can make you more sensitive to the sun. This means that if you're taking one of these medications, you're more likely to get sunburned. Be sure to check the list of side effects for any medication you're taking, and if it says that it can make you more sensitive to the sun, be extra careful when you're outdoors and use sunscreen.

Tips to Prevent Sunburn

The best way to avoid getting sunburned is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Here are some tips to help you keep your skin safe from the sun:

1. Use Sunscreen

  • Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30.

  • Apply generously and reapply every two hours, or more often if swimming or sweating.

  • Don’t forget often-missed spots like ears, the back of the neck, and the tops of feet.

2. Wear Protective Clothing

  • Wear long sleeves, pants, and wide-brimmed hats to keep the sun's rays off your skin.

  • Wear sunglasses that protect your eyes from the sun.

  • Choose clothes that have a UPF rating. This means that the fabric has been specially treated to protect your skin from the sun.

3. Seek Shade

  • Whenever possible, stay in the shade, especially during peak sun hours.

  • Use umbrellas, canopies, or other forms of shade when outdoors.

4. Avoid Peak Sun Hours

  • Limit your time outdoors between 10 AM and 4 PM when the sun's rays are the strongest.

  • Plan outdoor activities for early morning or late afternoon.

5. Stay Hydrated

  • Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. This helps keep your skin hydrated.

  • Keeping your skin hydrated can make it more resistant to sunburn, so it's important to drink lots of water when you're out in the sun.

Sunburn Pain and Itch Relief

If you end up with a sunburn and are experiencing the uncomfortable itching that comes with it, there are some remedies that can help to ease the discomfort. Here are some tips:

Immediate Steps

  • Get Out of the Sun: Move to a shaded or indoor area to prevent further damage.

  • Cool Down the Skin: Take a cool (not cold) bath or shower, or apply a cool compress. Avoid ice directly on the skin as it can cause further damage.

Home Remedies

  • Aloe Vera: Aloe vera gel has a lot of benefits for the skin. It can help to soothe the skin, moisturize it, and reduce redness and pain.

  • Oatmeal Baths: Soak in a lukewarm oatmeal bath to reduce itching and inflammation. Oatmeal acts as a natural anti-inflammatory and can help moisturize the skin.

  • Hydrating Lotions: Using a fragrance-free, hydrating lotion can help keep your skin moisturized after a sunburn. Look for lotions that have ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides. These ingredients can help to keep your skin hydrated and healthy.

Over-the-Counter Treatments

  • Hydrocortisone Cream: This cream can help reduce inflammation and itching. Follow the instructions on the packaging for how often and how much to apply.

  • Antihistamines: Taking antihistamine pills, like Benadryl, can help reduce the itching if it's really bad. This is especially helpful if the itching is keeping you up at night.

  • Pain Relievers: NSAIDs like ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling associated with sunburn. Acetaminophen can also be effective for pain relief.

When to See a Doctor

While most sunburns can be treated at home, there are some situations where you should see a doctor. Here are some of the reasons you might need to see a doctor for a sunburn:

  • Severe Sunburn: If you have a very bad sunburn with large blisters covering a lot of your body, severe pain and swelling, high fever, chills, or headache, you may have sun poisoning. This is a serious condition and requires medical attention. If you think you may have sun poisoning, you should go to the doctor as soon as possible.

  • Persistent Itching: If the itching from a sunburn doesn’t improve with home remedies or over-the-counter treatments, it’s important to see a doctor. Persistent itching could be a sign of a more serious condition. Your doctor can help you figure out what’s causing the itching and find the best treatment for it.

  • Signs of Infection: If you see increased redness, swelling, pus, red streaks leading away from the blister, or if you have a fever, these could be signs of an infection. Infections can be serious and can lead to complications if not treated promptly, so it's important to see a doctor as soon as possible if you think you have an infection.

Dealing with a sunburn and its annoying itch? We are here to help! Our team of doctors and nurses at Center One Medical are experts in dermatology and can give you personalized solutions for your specific problem. Don't let that itching ruin your fun in the sun—contact us and book an appointment today and we'll help you get the relief you need.


Sunburns are a common problem that can cause a lot of discomfort, including itching. By understanding how to prevent sunburns and what to do if you get one, you can enjoy the sun without the discomfort. Preventing sunburns by using sunscreen and protective clothing is the best way to stay safe. If you do get a sunburn, there are many remedies you can try to relieve the pain and itching. It's important to know when to see a doctor if your sunburn is causing you a lot of problems.


1. Is sunburn itch dangerous?

  • Sunburn itch is not dangerous, but a severe sunburn can be dangerous. It's important to treat sunburn quickly to make sure it doesn't get worse and cause other problems. So, if you have a sunburn, make sure to treat it right away and follow the instructions for how to take care of it.

2. Can I use any moisturizer for sunburn itch?

  • When your skin is itching from a sunburn, it's best to use a moisturizer that has aloe vera or chamomile. These are known for being really good at calming down your skin. Make sure to stay away from moisturizers that have fragrances or alcohol in them, as these can make your skin feel more irritated.

3. How long does sunburn itch typically last?

  • How long sunburn itch lasts can vary from person to person. For most people, the itching will start to go away within a week, but for more serious cases, it can take longer to go away. If the itching is severe or lasts for a long time, you should see a doctor to make sure it's not something more serious.

4. Is there a link between sunburn itch and skin cancer?

  • Sunburn itself doesn't cause skin cancer, but if you get sunburned a lot, it can increase your chances of getting skin cancer. This is because the sun's rays can damage your skin. The best way to protect yourself from skin cancer is to protect yourself from the sun's rays by using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing.

5. Can I go swimming with a sunburn itch?

  • If you have a sunburn itch, it's best not to go swimming until the sunburn has healed. Going swimming can make the itch worse because the chlorine in the water can irritate your skin even more. So, wait until your sunburn has healed before you go swimming.

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