14 Tips to Manage Sunburn Blisters - eMediHealth (2023)

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Prolonged exposure to the harsh sun can damage your skin, causing tanning, premature aging, and even sunburn. The UV rays coming from the sun are strong enough to stimulate a defense reaction in the skin within 10 minutes of exposure.

14 Tips to Manage Sunburn Blisters - eMediHealth (1)

These UV rays are of three types, namely, UVA, UVB, and UVC, which differ in their wavelengths. UVC radiation is the most damaging, but it is almost completely absorbed by the atmosphere before sunlight hits the ground.

However, UVA and UVB radiations can inflict damage on your skin in different ways:

  • UVA– These UV rays can penetrate deep into the skin and inhibit new skin cell generation. This causes premature skin aging, damages the eye, and also weakens the immune system. (1) Exposure to UVA rays can also increase the risk of skin cancer and can commonly cause sunburn.
  • UVB– These UV rays are stronger than UVA rays (1) and can damage the cellular DNA, contributing to an increased risk of skin cancer. UVB rays are largely responsible for sunburns.

What Are Sunburn Blisters?

As mentioned above, when your skin is exposed to intense sunlight, it may get burned due to the harsh UV radiation. The damage is characterized by swelling, redness, warmth, and pain.

However, in severe cases, your skin may develop inflamed blisters, which can disconnect skin cells from each other. This leads to breaks in the skin, causing drainage of fluid into the blisters. (2)

The blisters may develop up to 24 hours after a sunburn and are characterized by small, white fluid-filled bumps over a large area of the skin. These blisters are surrounded by swollen, red skin.

The blisters can be painful, tender, and itchy and increase the risk of infection. While a sunburn only affects the epidermis, or the outer skin layer, blister formation is a second-degree burn that affects the inner dermis skin layers as well. (3)

Managing Sunburn Blisters

Sunburn blisters develop due to prolonged exposure to the sun and are often accompanied by various complications, including vomiting, nausea, chills, fever, dehydration, infection, delayed healing, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and scarring.

Therefore, it is best to seek immediate medical treatment for severe blistered sunburn. The doctor may apply dressing to the affected area and prescribe burn creams that help soothe your skin and aid healing.

Along with medical treatment, you can also take self-care measures to facilitate the healing process and prevent the blisters from exasperating.

You may follow the following tips upon consulting your doctor:

1. Apply a cold compress

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Applying a cold compress can relieve your skin from the heat associated with a sunburn. This remedy also helps manage the pain and inflammation caused by sunburn blisters. (4)

You can use an ice pack or a cool, wet towel and place it on the affected area for about 10–15 minutes. Always wrap the ice or ice pack in a towel before application, and refrain from leaving it on the skin for long periods.

2. Take a cold bath

Fill your bath with cool water and soak yourself in it. This soothes the skin and relieves pain and stinging sensation to some extent.

3. Refrain from picking at the blisters

It is a common habit to pop blisters on the skin. However, picking at these fluid-filled pockets can do more harm than good. Popping blisters can interfere with skin healing and also increase the risk of infections. It is best to leave the blisters alone and allow them to dry up or drain on their own.

4. Do not peel the burnt skin

In case you accidentally pop your blister, avoid peeling off the dead skin as it can result in infection and scarring. If your skin becomes scarred, consult your doctor for scar treatments.

5. Apply a steroid cream

You can use topical steroids such as a 1% hydrocortisone cream to control the inflammation and itching.

6. Take OTC pain meds if required

Aside from topical medications, you can take oral drugs such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) (ibuprofen or aspirin) to relieve the inflammation, pain, swelling, and redness.

7. Moisturize the skin

It is essential to moisturize your sunburnt skin to help it heal quicker. It is best to use lotions containing aloe vera or calamine.

Make sure to avoid any creams that contain benzocaine or lidocaine as they can irritate the skin. Similarly, avoid petroleum-based products as they can trap in the heat.

8. Use after-sun lotions

After-sun lotions are highly useful in case you forget to apply your sunscreen before stepping outdoors. These lotions contain hydrating agents such as lipids, ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid that help moisturize your skin, strengthening its barrier function.

In addition, after-sun lotions are rich in antioxidants that fight against the free radicals generated after sun exposure.

It is suggested to use creams that contain papaya, aloe vera, cucumber, and chamomile as they are soothing and moisturizing. Avoid heavy ointments or occlusive as they trap the heat and prevent your skin from cooling down.

9. Apply aloe vera gel on the blisters

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Aloe vera is known for its burn-healing properties and can therefore be helpful in the treatment of sunburn blisters. Its anti-inflammatory properties help reduce the inflammation and discomfort associated with sunburns.(5)

In addition, aloe vera gel can soothe the skin, provide nutrition and moisture, and also boost collagen production. However, make sure to use aloe vera gel only if your blisters are intact, as open wounds may be susceptible to irritation and infection.

10. Avoid friction and chemicals

Make sure to protect the affected area from irritant chemicals or harsh surfaces that can pop the blister. Use only a soft washcloth to pat the area dry instead of rubbing it. Also, avoid using harsh exfoliators and cleansers that are chemical laden.

11. Wear loose clothing

Wear only loose pants and shirts that do not stick to your skin to avoid pain and popping of your blisters. Using tight clothing can put undue pressure on the skin and increase pain.

12. Prevent sun exposure

While your skin is healing from the sunburn blisters, it is vital that you protect it from further sun exposure. If you do need to go outside, make sure to cover the affected area with loose clothing. Use sunscreens after the blisters have healed.

13. Consume plenty of water

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Your body increases water supply to the sunburnt areas for proper healing. To prevent dehydration in the other body parts, it is vital to drink opulent amounts of water, which also helps in the healing process.

14. Eat superfoods

Sun exposure generates free radicals in the skin, which are responsible for DNA and skin cell damage. Consuming fruits, vegetables, and superfoods rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals can help combat these free radicals and minimize damage.

It is recommended to eat blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, prunes, plums, artichokes, pecans, and beans. (6)

Preventive Tips to Avoid Sunburn

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It is fairly easy to avoid sunburn and therefore sunburn blisters. The following tips may be helpful:

  • Avoid staying under the sun for long periods, especially between 10 am and 4 pm when the UV radiation is at its strongest.
  • Seek shade whenever possible, and wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, full-length pants, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses.
  • Use sunscreen daily, even if it is cloudy and the sun rays are not very evident as UV rays will still be emitted.
  • Apply a water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher at least 15 minutes before stepping out.
  • Reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours under the sun or after swimming, taking a bath, or excessive sweating.

When to See a Doctor

Sunburn blisters, being a second-degree burn, require medical care, especially if you experience extreme pain, excessive redness, and blisters that do not improve with the treatment options mentioned above.

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Make sure to consult a doctor if:

  • The blisters affect a large area of the body.
  • You have fever or chills.
  • You feel dizzy, weak, or nauseous.
  • The blisters ooze pus or red streaks.
  • You experience extreme pain.

Final Word

Sunburns can heal on their own, but they can often damage your skin from within. Moreover, sunburn blisters can be highly painful and discomforting, also increasing the risk of skin cancer every time.

Therefore, it is essential to protect your skin from excessive sun exposure. If you do develop a sunburn blister, make sure to treat it with care until it heals. Contact your doctor if the affected area is large or extremely painful.

References

  1. D’Orazio J, Jarrett S, Amaro-Ortiz A, Scott T. UV radiation and the skin. International journal of molecular sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3709783/. Published June 7, 2013.
  2. Dhawan AK, Grover C, Bisherwal K, Garg S. Delayed Burn Blister. Indian journal of dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458976/. Published 2015.
  3. Sánchez-Pérez JF, Vicente-Agullo D, Barberá M, Castro-Rodríguez E, Cánovas M. Relationship between ultraviolet index (UVI) and first-, second- and third-degree sunburn using the Probit methodology. Scientific reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6345802/. Published January 24, 2019.
  4. Dehghan M, Farahbod F. The efficacy of thermotherapy and cryotherapy on pain relief in patients with acute low back pain, a clinical trial study. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4225921/. Published September 2014.
  5. Hekmatpou D, Mehrabi F, Rahzani K, Aminiyan A. The Effect of Aloe Vera Clinical Trials on Prevention and Healing of Skin Wound: A Systematic Review. Iranian journal of medical sciences. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6330525/. Published January 2019.
  6. Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, et al. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutrition journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2841576/. Published January 22, 2010.
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FAQs

Why do my sunburn blisters keep getting bigger? ›

Skin that is red and painful and that swells up and blisters may mean that deep skin layers and nerve endings have been damaged. These are second-degree burns. This type of sunburn is usually more painful and takes longer to heal.

When do sunburn blisters heal? ›

Sunburn blisters can be very painful and take around 1 week to heal. This type of burn also increases the risk of skin cancer and melanoma. After the blisters heal, blister scars that appear as dark or light spots on the surface of the skin can remain visible for 6–12 months.

Do I pop sunburn blisters? ›

You should not pop a sun blister (more on that later), however, if one does pop open, the Mayo Clinic recommends very carefully cleaning the area with gentle soap and water. Apply antibiotic ointment and cover the exposed skin with nonstick gauze or a bandage.

What cream is best for sunburn blisters? ›

  • Cetaphil Soothing Gel Cream with Aloe.
  • CeraVe Moisturizing Cream.
  • Cortizone 10 Cream.
  • Ace Reusable Cold Compress.
  • All Health Hydrocolloid Gel Bandages.
  • Spenco 2nd Skin Moist Burn Pads.
  • Aquaphor.
  • Advil.
Jun 23, 2022

Should you cover a blister or let it breathe? ›

If a blister has burst, don't peel off the dead skin on top of the blister. Allow the fluid inside to drain and wash it with mild soap and water. Cover the blister and the area around it with a dry, sterile dressing to protect it from infection until it heals.

How do you sleep with sunburn blisters? ›

Rather than damage skin even more with something that's too cold, stick to a cool bath or shower or a cool compress to help reduce pain before bed. Wear loose, breathable clothing. It's a good idea to avoid constricting clothing on sunburned areas. “I wouldn't wear something nylon," Dr.

How do you get rid of a blister without popping it? ›

For a Blister That Has Not Popped

Try not to pop or drain it. Leave it uncovered or cover loosely with a bandage. Try not to put pressure on the area. If the blister is in a pressure area such as the bottom of the foot, put a donut-shaped moleskin on it.

What is the fluid in a burn blister? ›

Fluid in the blister is ultrafiltrate of the plasma, which is rich in proteins such as immunoglobulins, various cytokines, prostaglandins, and interleukins. This fluid is pro-inflammatory, and the evidence regarding its effect on wound healing is varied.

Is salt water good for sunburn? ›

Get out of the sun

Hang outside after sunburn symptoms first crop up and you could do more damage to the area or expand it, according to Lipner, who warns that sand, salt water and chlorine can all aggravate the skin to increase pain and potential for infection.

Does aloe help sunburn blisters? ›

Apply aloe vera

As previously mentioned, sunburn blisters are caused by inflammation. Aloe has anti-inflammatory properties, so it can help reduce the discomfort that comes along with inflammation. The gel can also speed up the healing process, since it is rich with vitamins and can stimulate collagen production.

Is Vaseline good for sunburn? ›

If your skin is not blistering, moisturizing cream may be applied to relieve discomfort. DO NOT use butter, petroleum jelly (Vaseline), or other oil-based products. These can block pores so that heat and sweat cannot escape, which can lead to infection. DO NOT pick at or peel away the top part of the blisters.

What do sun poisoning blisters look like? ›

The resulting symptoms of a sun allergy reaction look like a widespread red rash. It's also extremely itchy. The rash can develop small bumps that look like hives. Sun allergies occur regularly from sun exposure and may need regular treatment from a dermatologist.

What is the fluid in a burn blister? ›

Fluid in the blister is ultrafiltrate of the plasma, which is rich in proteins such as immunoglobulins, various cytokines, prostaglandins, and interleukins. This fluid is pro-inflammatory, and the evidence regarding its effect on wound healing is varied.

How do you sleep with sunburn blisters? ›

Rather than damage skin even more with something that's too cold, stick to a cool bath or shower or a cool compress to help reduce pain before bed. Wear loose, breathable clothing. It's a good idea to avoid constricting clothing on sunburned areas. “I wouldn't wear something nylon," Dr.

How do you get rid of a blister without popping it? ›

For a Blister That Has Not Popped

Try not to pop or drain it. Leave it uncovered or cover loosely with a bandage. Try not to put pressure on the area. If the blister is in a pressure area such as the bottom of the foot, put a donut-shaped moleskin on it.

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