6 Tips for Treating Sunburn Itch

6 Tips for Treating Sunburn ItchOne of the most unpleasant effects of sunburn is itchy skin. It can occasionally feel so painful that some people even refer to it as “hell’s itch”. Sunburn itch subsides as the sunburn heals, but in the meantime you can use certain remedies to find some relief. Here are 6 tips for treating sunburn itch.

Sunburn is, in fact, a form of radiation burn caused by an overexposure to ultraviolet radiation and associated direct DNA damage. Sunburned skin becomes itchy because UV radiation from the sun damages the top layer of the skin and affects the nerve fibers, which results in the itchy sensation. Luckily, there are easy ways to relieve hell’s itch.

Don’t Scratch

The urge to scratch may be almost irresistible, but you absolutely must resist it. When you scratch sunburned skin, you aggravate the damage caused by sun radiation. As a result, the burn will take a longer time to heal and will continue to itch, driving you mad.


Your skin itches because it is dry. If you replenish moisture, it may relieve itching to a degree. Seek out special after-tanning lotions with soothing ingredients and free of perfume. For a mild sunburn, you can also try coconut oil or aloe vera gel. These natural remedies hydrate the skin and produce an anti-inflammatory effect.

Sunburned skin may begin to peel, but you must not use any products to speed up the process because they will make your skin itch more. Avoid scrubs, chemical peels with salycilic acid or retinol, or any other exfoliants until your skin is healed.

Apply a Cool Compress

Try soaking a washcloth in cool water, green tea or skim milk and using it as a compress. Cool compresses take away some of the discomfort and provide a temporary relief for itchy skin.

Use Peppermint Oil

Peppermint essential oil has a soothing and cooling effect. Please note that you need exactly peppermint oil, peppermint extract is not the same. You should also keep in mind that undiluted peppermint oil, like most essential oils, may harm the skin. So, before applying peppermint oil, mix it with a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba and test the mixture on a small area of your sunburned skin to make sure there is no allergic reaction. You will need 10–12 drops of peppermint oil for each ounce of carrier oil. For people with sensitive skin, children and pregnant women, the dosage is half of that amount (5–6 drops per ounce).

Try an Oatmeal Bath

A warm oatmeal bath is considered an effective at-home treatment for hell’s itch and some other skin conditions such as chickenpox rash. Oatmeal hydrates dry skin and normalizes its pH, which helps reduce itching. Run a lukewarm bath and add ¾ cup finely ground oatmeal to the water. Soak for about 10 minutes, rinse with lukewarm water, and pat your skin dry with a towel without rubbing it. You can also mix colloidal oatmeal with some water to make a paste and then apply this paste to the sunburn as a soothing compress.

Try Medication

If creams and lotions don’t help, try a mild topical steroid to soothe inflammation. A low-concentration hydrocortisone cream (0.5% – 1%) should work just fine. It stops damaged skin cells from releasing inflammatory substances and reduces itching. If the itching is so bad you feel like you might go crazy, talk to your doctor about prescribing a stronger steroid cream. A topical anesthetic may help, too, but it should be used with caution because some topical anesthetics may cause allergy and make things worse.

You should also consider taking an over-the-counter antihistamine (allergy med) to suppress the production of histamines in your body and temporarily reduce itching. Beware the side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, and nausea.



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