How to Deal With a Sunburn on Vacation

Minimize suffering and make the most of your trip.

This week Roam offers up Travel Smart, with our writers' and editors' best tips, hacks and resources for ensuring smooth, successful travels. Tune in daily for new content and fresh ideas to save money and get the most out of your trip.

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It's the first day of your beach vacation. You’re getting ready to go to dinner and you start to feel heat coming off of your arms. You look in the mirror and realize you are a lobster. I’ve been there and I’m a pro traveler! I apply baby sunscreen militantly every two hours. But sometimes it happens.

Having a sunburn can ruin a vacation, especially if you’ve planned lots of outdoor activities. Here are some of my standbys to help kickstart the healing. These remedies won’t magically erase anything but do help wrangle a sunburn and minimize the suffering so you can make the most of the rest of your vacation.

 Ibuprofen

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Take this as soon as you realize you’re pink. And remember not all pain killers are the same. Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory, meaning, in addition to helping you move your arms without screaming, it calms the inflamed skin. Check the active ingredient on painkillers to make sure yours has Ibuprofen. And always check with your doctor before taking any painkiller.

 Hydrate

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You know that recommendation about eight glasses of water a day? Do that but more. Your burned skin needs hydration to heal. And if you’re taking Ibuprofen around the clock, you’ll need extra fluids. Try to skip the alcohol, too. You need fluids that hydrate. That doesn't mean you have to give up the Instagram-worthy frozen cocktails. Just order a virgin.

 Oil-Free Lotion

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Aloe is wonderful and has soothing and healing properties but a lot of green bottles that say they have aloe gel in fact have a lot of alcohol and added chemicals that can dry the skin out. Read the label and make sure you’re buying real aloe. I usually skip the aloe and go straight to an oil-free lotion with oatmeal and chamomile. And I slather myself as frequently as I should have applied sunscreen.

 Protective Clothing

The worst part about having a sunburn on vacation is limiting your time outside for the rest of the trip. You don’t want to miss out on the fun, but, once you’re burned, additional exposure can cause more damage. When I’m burned, I make sure I’m slathered up in sunscreen for the rest of the trip but I also cover myself. It may not be the most fashionable, but it’s protecting my skin. I wear hats and rash guards that are UVA and UVB protective just like my sunglasses. I’ve even worn full wet suits on kayaking and snorkeling trips. I may look odd compared to others in the group with bikinis, but who cares? It’s my vacation and I want to enjoy it.

 Call Your Doctor

More Tips for Fun in the Sun

Put a Cork in It

Put a Cork in It

Leave your key ring at home and take just your house, condo or car key to the shore. Tip: Screw an eyehook into an old wine cork and attach the crucial key to it. If you accidentally take it into the surf, you’ll have a buoy and a good story instead of a locksmith referral. 960 1280

  

The Right Fit

The Right Fit

Traditional beach blankets have a habit of mutating into mainsails during an onshore gust. Instead, take an old bed sheet (fitted is best) and fill the corners with sand to keep it on the ground where it belongs. If the local municipality permits, further stabilize your foundation with an iced bucket of beer or bubbly. 960 1280

  

Sound the UV Alarm

Sound the UV Alarm

It’s easy to lose track of time at the beach, but you need to stay alert to avoid getting sunburn. Set the timer on your phone or, for a more stylish setup, score a cute alarm clock at the thrift store (or a modern knock-off) and set it for a wake-up call. Your dermatologist will thank you.  960 1280

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BYOPopsicles

BYOPopsicles

Make your own frosted treats for the kids by tossing a few reusable juice pouches or store-bought juice boxes into the freezer the night before your beach trip. Mom can add a dash of rum to hers (just make sure to clearly mark the adult version).  960 1280

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Powder Up

Powder Up

If you hate having sand stick to your skin, try this trick to remove it. Dust baby powder over the sandy area, then easily shake or brush off the sand. The powder draws out moisture, making it a must for your beach bag.  960 1280

  

Wrap It Up

Wrap It Up

If you’ve ever dropped your phone in the toilet, you know that tech and water don’t mix. Now imagine that toilet is the Pacific Ocean. Protect your expensive phone or tablet by putting it in a 10-cent zip-top bag. It’ll also keep sand out of your charging port.  960 1280

  

A Spot of Tea

A Spot of Tea

If you forgot the sunscreen and wound up scorched, Earl Grey can help. Black tea contains tannic acid, which is one of the most effective ways to treat sunburn. Brew a few cups of strong tea, let cool and apply with cotton balls, or just apply the teabag directly to the affected area.  960 1280

  

Float On

Float On

Upcycle your old pool toys for your day at the beach. Fill a floatie with water, toss it in the freezer overnight and you’ve got an ice-cold drink insulator. When you’ve finished your drink, revert your drink insulator back to its original use as a floatie.  960 1280

  

Not all sunburns are created equal. And it’s important to take them seriously. You can’t just power through everything on vacation. Call your doctor or pediatrician and talk about your options for additional sun exposure and options for treatment.

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