Why Sunburn Itches: Medical Overview And Treatment


We all know sunburn is unsightly and painful. What makes it worse sometimes is the itchiness that accompanies it. You are probably wondering why sunburn itches. Sunburn occurs when UV rays damage the top layer of the skin because of excessive sun exposure without adequate protection. This layer of the skin contains several nerve fibers and the damage causes them to activate, leading to an itching sensation. It’s therefore not uncommon to get some itchiness and peeling.

It gets even worse if you suffer from what is commonly called hell’s itch. This is an extreme itch that occurs in some people. It is not known what causes intense itching like this, however, sunburn can be prevented and there are some remedies which can help to soothe burning, stinging skin.

Hell’s Itch

Why Sunburn Itches

Source: medicalnewstoday.com

Roughly five to ten percent of people who get sunburn suffer from intense itching. Hell’s itch can begin up to 72 hours after the burn occurred. People say it’s painful and throbbing and can even feel like fire ants are crawling on the skin and biting it. You should resist the urge to scratch since this will further irritate the skin and lead to even more discomfort.

Some people report intense itching on their shoulders and back. These areas may get more sun exposure and not enough sunscreen and that, of course, leads to sunburn. Maybe you should get someone to help you apply your sunscreen, so you get those spots covered.

Why Sunburn Itches

Source: medicalnewstoday.com

Risk Factors For Sunburn

It is not clear exactly what causes some people to itch more than others. However, the risk factors for sun-related skin damage are known. If you can avoid sunburn, you can avoid the accompanying itch.

People with lighter skin tones and those who are not usually exposed to long periods of sun are likely to end up with red and peeling skin after a long beach or pool day. Darker skin tones can also be affected but the increased melanin helps guard against UV rays.

Individuals who spend lots of time at higher altitudes, like in the mountains, may also get more sunburns. This is because the sun’s rays are more intense the higher you are.

Getting Rid of Sunburn Itch

Why Sunburn Itches

Source: treatnheal.com

The good news is that the itch associated with sunburn is only temporary. Once the sunburn clears up the itchy feeling usually goes along with it. There are some home remedies you can use to reduce the pain and other discomfort which comes with serious sunburns.

One option is to take a cool bath using baking soda, apple cider vinegar or oatmeal. Baking soda neutralizes acid while apple cider vinegar balances the skin’s pH. Oatmeal is a natural moisturizer.

You should also drink lots of water. The sun causes the skin to become very dehydrated and you need to replenish the moisture if you want your skin to heal properly.

Applying a hydrocortisone cream in a strength of less than one percent should also help to reduce itching, inflammation, and redness caused by sunburn.

Preventing Future Sunburn

Now that you’re over this bout of sun-damaged skin, try not to let it happen again. Cover up with clothing, an umbrella and sunglasses the next time you’ll be exposed to prolonged sunlight. Remember to apply and reapply a sunscreen with a broad-spectrum SPF designed to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. You may want to consult your doctor about which ones are best for your skin type and level of outdoor activity.

If you’ve had severe sunburn or multiple sunburns, your skin cancer risk is increased. Look out for changes to the skin and talk to your doctor if you notice any changes in the usual texture or pigment.