Sunburn Medication

Updated: Aug 12, 2021
  • Author: Christopher M McStay, MD, FAWM, FACEP; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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Medication Summary

The symptoms of minor sunburn can be relieved to some extent with cool compresses or a cool bath. Administration of nonprescription analgesics and NSAIDs for the treatment of pain and inflammation is recommended. Topical anesthetic sprays or creams may cause sensitization and consequent dermatitis and, therefore, should be avoided. [26]


Analgesic Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drug

Class Summary

These medications can reduce the pain and inflammation associated with sunburn.

Naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprelan, Naprosyn)

Naproxen is used for relief of mild to moderate pain; it inhibits inflammatory reactions and pain by decreasing the activity of cyclooxygenase, which results in a decrease of prostaglandin synthesis.

Aspirin (Bayer, Anacin, Bufferin)

Aspirin is used for the treatment of mild to moderate pain. It also acts on the hypothalamus heat-regulating center to reduce fever.

Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, Nuprin)

Ibuprofen is usually the drug of choice for the treatment of mild to moderate pain, if no contraindications are present.


Analgesic, Miscellaneous

Class Summary

These agents are used to decrease the pain associated with sunburn.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol, Aspirin-Free Anacin, Feverall, Tempra)

Acetaminophen is the recommended analgesic in patients with documented hypersensitivity to aspirin or NSAIDs, in those with upper GI disease, or in those who are taking oral anticoagulants. Acetaminophen is effective in relieving mild to moderate acute pain; however, it has no peripheral anti-inflammatory effects. It may be preferred in elderly patients because of fewer GI and renal adverse effects.



Class Summary

Because they modify the body's immune response, corticosteroids are thought to decrease erythema, but they have little or no clinical utility for sunburn.

Prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone, Meticorten)

Prednisone may decrease inflammation by reversing increased capillary permeability and suppressing PMN activity.