How to treat and prevent sunburned lips this summer

Sunburned lips
You should use a lip balm with SPF 30+ protection to prevent lip sunburn. Andrii Zorii/Getty Images
  • Sunburned lips can cause increased sensitivity, a burning sensation, peeling, and dryness.
  • If you are in pain or have significant swelling or blisters, then you should see a doctor.
  • You can treat sunburnt lips with a cool compress, aloe vera, hydrocortisone, and NSAIDs.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

You probably know to use sunscreen on your face and body when you spend time outside, but you may not realize that your lips need protection too.

Getting too much sun can leave you with swollen, irritated lips that can make it painful to eat or drink. If you get a lip sunburn, you can treat it at home using aloe vera or pain relievers, but in more severe cases, you may need to see a doctor.

Here are five ways you can treat sunburned lips and how you can prevent lip sunburns in the future.

Symptoms of sunburned lips

Lips sunburns may look different depending on whether you have a first or second-degree burn.

First-degree sunburned lips are milder and include symptoms like:

  • Increased sensitivity
  • A stinging or burning sensation
  • Discomfort while chewing or talking
  • Dryness
  • Slight peeling

Second-degree sunburned lips are more severe with symptoms like:

  • Pain
  • Significant swelling
  • Redness or darker color
  • Blisters

First-degree sunburns will usually heal on their own after three to five days. But second-degree sunburns may require a visit to the dermatologist to prevent more serious issues like infection or scarring.

How to treat sunburned lips

If you have a mild lip sunburn, you can likely treat it at home. Here are five home remedies you can try to help ease the sensitivity, dryness, and burning from sunburned lips.

1. Apply a cool compresses

It’s important to cool down your lips as soon as possible after a sunburn to reduce inflammation.

To make a cool compress, you can soak a washcloth with cold water or wrap a cloth around an ice pack. Hold the compress to your lips until you feel some relief.

2. Try anti-inflammatory medications

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen, can help relieve lip pain and bring down the inflammation that causes redness and swelling, says Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with a private practice.

NSAIDs work best if you take them as soon as possible after lip sunburn. This can help stop inflammation before it gets too severe.

Taking NSAIDs may also make it easier for you to tolerate the pain from talking, chewing, and drinking through a straw.

3. Use aloe vera

Related Article Module: Aloe vera is one of the best sunburn remedies – here’s why it works and how to use itAloe vera is a common treatment for sunburn because it has a cooling effect that can help soothe irritated skin.

Aloe also acts as an anti-inflammatory, so it can help reduce redness and swelling in your lips, Jaliman says.

It’s important to choose an aloe product with as few added ingredients as possible to avoid irritating your lips. “Make sure the aloe vera is direct from the plant or fragrance-free,” Jaliman says.

4. Keep lips moist with a moisterizer

Using moisturizer can help soothe the skin and keep it protected during the healing process.

For sunburned lips, in particular, it’s best to use a light moisturizer like Aquaphor or CeraVe. Avoid moisturizers that contain petroleum, as these can seal in heat and irritate your skin.

5. Try a hydrocortisone topical

If other treatments aren’t working, you can try hydrocortisone, an over-the-counter steroid cream that acts as an anti-inflammatory.

“Hydrocortisone can be used for itching and inflammation associated with a sunburn,” Jaliman says. It may also help reduce redness and swelling that happens with more severe lip sunburns.

You should only apply hydrocortisone to the outer areas of your lips and be careful not to swallow it, as many hydrocortisone creams aren’t safe to ingest.

When to see a doctor

In some cases, a lip sunburn may be too severe to treat at home and you should contact a dermatologist to avoid long-term complications like scarring on your lips.

“If it’s really painful and you were to get blisters I would see a dermatologist as there are special bandages to prevent scarring,” Jaliman says.

You should also see a doctor if you have symptoms of infection like fever or yellow pus oozing from the blisters.

How to prevent sunburned lips

The easiest way to prevent lip sunburn is to limit your sun exposure. “Avoid sitting out in the sun from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. where ultraviolet rays are at their strongest,” Jaliman says.

If you plan to be in the sun, you can use a lip balm with SPF protection – Jaliman recommends using a product with SPF 30 or higher. You can find over-the-counter options at most pharmacies.

Because we use our lips for talking and eating, which can cause sunscreen to wear off more quickly, you may need to reapply lip balm throughout the day for max protection. “Make sure to reapply it often if you are in the water,” Jaliman says.

Insider’s takeaway

Getting a lip sunburn can be a painful experience, but home remedies like cool compresses and aloe vera can help ease symptoms like irritation and swelling.

If you have symptoms of an infection or severe blisters, see your doctor or a dermatologist as soon as possible for treatment.

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