First Aid for Sunburn

Written by | 27 Nov 2017

The days are getting warmer, the skies are getting bluer and the UV rays from the sun are getting harsher. Australia experiences some of the highest UV levels in the world and with Melbourne taking out one of the top spots, the likelihood of sunburn in the summertime is high across the state so knowing the correct First Aid for sunburn is critical.

The slip, slop, slap, seek and slide slogan is all too familiar and most of us are more than happy to oblige. But sometimes you just get caught in the sun, without protective clothing or access to 30+ sunscreen and the damage is done before you know it. Some of the worst sunburn can come from a day of outdoor activities on an overcast day. The ball tends to drop on days like this and people may not be as mindful of the danger and intensity of UV rays.

Unfortunately, you’re probably familiar with the damage and discomfort sunburn can cause and know it can be hard to endure while skin cells heal. Ensure you’re best prepared and know how to provide sunburn First Aid to minimise pain and future damage as best you can.

What Causes Sunburn?

Sunburn is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays and unlike what you might think, it is completely undetectable to the everyday person. What you can see and feel in sunshine and heat is known as infrared radiation, not UV rays.

The misinformation that sunshine and heat directly correlate with a high UV index is a common myth and it’s important to remember that sunburn, even severe sunburn, can occur on some of the most overcast days. A cloudy or cooler day in the summertime can still produce a high UV index which means the risk of sunburn remains the same and clouds do not act as a protective barrier.

In the summertime, we all spend a considerable amount of time outside playing sports, exploring the landscape, and enjoying the warmth. According to Cancer Council Australia, 18% of adults weren’t wearing protective clothing or using appropriate sunscreen when they spent more than an hour outside in summer. When the UV Index is only moderate (5-6), sunburn can happen in just 30 minutes. In the height of summer days with UV at very high (10+), skin takes less than 15 minutes to be burned. Adults are clearly becoming complacent about the dangers of UV rays, but at what cost?

According to Cancer Council Australia on the average summer weekend in Australia, 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 5 teenagers suffer from sunburn. Compared to four years ago, approximately 430,000 more Australian adults are getting sunburnt on the weekend which equates to almost 2.4 million Australians suffering each weekend.

Sunburn Signs And Symptoms

Sunburn can vary in degrees but common signs and symptoms to look for include:

  • Red or purple skin
  • Swollen skin
  • Warm or hot skin
  • Pain or itching in the area
  • Blistering of the skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache or fever

First Aid for Sunburn

Sunburn can cause severe discomfort and damage. Follow our tips on First Aid for sunburn to ease discomfort and aid skin repair:

  1. Rest the casualty in a cool and shady place
  2. Place under a cool shower, in a cool bath or sponge with cool water for 10 minutes. Repeat if it helps decrease discomfort
  3. Apply cool gauze padding to the burnt area
  4. Give the casualty cold water
  5. Seek medical assistance for infants and casualties with blisters

Note: do not pop blisters

Sunburn to the eyes:

  1. Cover eyes with thick, cool, moist dressings to cool them and keep light out
  2. Reassure the casualty
  3. Seek medical assistance

First Aid for Sunburn - Things to Avoid


In this day and age most of us do what we can to avoid getting sunburnt, but often it catches us off-guard after an unplanned outing in the sun or being unaware of the UV index on a cooler or cloudy day.

As we are living in a high risk country for sunburn, knowing how to provide first aid for sunburn is a critical and practical skill to have. The ability to decrease discomfort and short-term damage can have a considerable impact for the person suffering.

Hot and sunny days don’t mean you need to cower away from the sunshine. As long as you’re diligent and regularly slip, slop, slack, seek and slide you can enjoy a day of activities without the worry. But if you do get caught out, follow our tips on First Aid for sunburn to ensure you’re aiding the healing process as best you possibly can.