How to Deal With a Sunburn on Vacation

Minimize suffering and make the most of your trip.

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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.

Sunburned woman's back at the beach


Sunburned woman's back at the beach

Photo by: jcarillet


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.


Over the counter medication on black table with bottle and cap


Over the counter medication on black table with bottle and cap

Photo by: miflippo


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.


glass of water on a table in a restaurant


glass of water on a table in a restaurant

Photo by: tokkyneo


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

demonstration of used body lotion on hand


demonstration of used body lotion on hand

Photo by: pedphoto36pm


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.

young woman in rashguard at the beach protecting her skin from the sun, uv protection concept


young woman in rashguard at the beach protecting her skin from the sun, uv protection concept

Photo by:

 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

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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