Can You Wash Off a Sunburn?

Does showering “wash off” the UV rays from a sunburn? While showering or bathing after a sunburn can help relieve pain, itching, and inflammation, there is no scientific basis that the water can wash off the UV rays from a sunburn.

Why you Can’t Wash Off a Sunburn

UV does not remain on the skin after leaving sunlight, contrary to some popular rumors. Though it seems as though the skin doesn’t burn until hours after being outside, the skin is actually already burned. Redness and itching hours later is due to delayed inflammation. This is why showering or bathing after getting burnt seems to help. Though it does help with pain and itching, it does not help to heal or resist the burn itself.

When showering or bathing after getting sunburnt, never use hot water as this can make burning and inflammation worse. Use lukewarm or cool water. Using soap is not recommended as it will dry out the skin and make it more prone to blistering.

Other Tactics to Treat Sunburns

Like most wounds, it’s hard to make a wound heal “faster”. There are many ways that you can relieve the pain, reduce the risk of blistering, and reduce the risk of infection.

Aside from applying cool water to the burns, using a lotion for hydration can also reduce inflammation. Try to avoid complex, perfumed lotions, and instead stick with the basics. Simple lotions are great. Lotions that contain petroleum jelly, antibiotic solutions, or aloe are perfect for sunburns.

You can also use antibiotic cream (the cream version is different from ointment) to prevent the risk of infection in the case that your sunburn is blistering.

Why Aloe Works Better than Washing Off a Sunburn

While not many options help burns heal faster, aloe is the exception. Aloe has been shown in studies to heal some burn wounds up to 45% faster than other methods. It works for many types of burn wounds, including sunburns. Aloe can come in a 100% aloe gel form, sprays, patches, facial creams, and in lotion.

While 100% aloe might sound like the way to go for fastest healing, using creams and lotions are often better. This is because they can smooth onto and dissolve into the skin, whereas pure aloe remains sticky and can easily be wiped off by accident.

Conclusion: Wash Off a Sunburn to Reduce Pain, but Beware

While washing off a sunburn can make you feel better, it does not actually make the burn itself any less severe. It can make the inflammation go down, which might be your goal. You can get rid of most pain associated with sunburns using lotions and cool water, so why does it matter that you got burned?

Try to avoid sunburn whenever you can. Sunburn is the main cause of skin cancer, and repeated sunburns increase your risk significantly. Even though you can wash off the pain, you can’t wash off the sunburn itself. Use preventative methods such as sunscreens, sun hats, and taking advantage of the shade on those sunny days to reduce your risks of sunburns.

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