Sunburn – Where Should I Go?

Sunburn can be extremely painful and unpleasant, even in more mild cases. For children it can be particularly difficult to deal with, but there are straightforward ways of self-medicating and soothing the affected areas.

Sunburn will manifest itself as red, warm, itchy and sore skin. Normal cases of sunburn will heal within seven days, perhaps with some peeling. Worse cases can result in blistering and symptoms of heat exhaustion. In the long-term, sunburn can cause permanent damage to your skin and increase your chances of skin cancer, as well as increasing the signs of ageing.


Protection against the sun’s rays should always come first. It is good to use a high factor sun cream and make sure those most vulnerable are covered or remain in the shade as much as possible. It can be easy to underestimate the strength of the sun, so even if it does not seem as though the sun is particularly powerful you should still protect yourself.

For children you should make sure they are covered up as much as possible, including using a hat and the highest factor of sun cream. Since it is still possible to burn through clothing and during cloud cover, it is worth applying sun cream regularly.

Dealing with Sunburn

Sunburn is rarely, if ever, considered to be an emergency. In normal circumstances, you should follow these steps if you or your child is sunburned:

  • Take cooling measures – try a cold shower or bath, or applying a cold damp flannel or sponge to the affected areas
  • Soothe and moisturise – Aloe Vera is particularly good in the case of sunburn as it both soothes and moisturises. There are also plenty of after-sun lotions available from your local pharmacy. Be careful to avoid any lotions or creams which contain petroleum, benzocaine and lidocaine.
  • Drink plenty to avoid dehydration.
  • Try to avoid sunlight and keep the affected areas covered as much as possible until it is healed.
  • Take pain killers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, but remember not to give any aspirin-based products to children under 16.

When to Seek Help

In the case of sunburn, it is highly unlikely that you would need to visit A&E. However, if any of the following symptoms occur, you can seek medical advice from your GP, Out of Hours Service, and NHS Direct:

  • Blistering or swelling of the skin
  • If you experience chills
  • A high temperature
  • Dizziness, headaches and feeling sick, all of which are symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Both of these are quite serious, but heat stroke is the more serious of the two. Again, it is unlikely that these would be considered an emergency, but if a person doesn’t respond to treatment within 30 minutes, loses consciousness, or shows signs of confusion or has seizures then call 999 immediately.

In all other cases where you are concerned and need advice, call NHS Direct on 111. NHS Direct phone services will provide advice on how best to treat your condition and can provide you with an out of hours appointment if it is deemed necessary.