Sunburn itch: What should I know?

Sunburn itch or hell’s itch is characterized as painful, reddened itchiness that can emerge a few days after a sunburn.

What are the signs?

The signs of sunburn itch last longer than a regular sunburn. It generally manifests anywhere between 24-72 hours after sun exposure. In most cases, it affects the back and shoulders since these are prone to a lot of sun exposure.

In addition, these areas are not given enough SPF protection which makes it susceptible to sunburn. The itchiness that manifests is considered throbbing, deep and hard to alleviate.

Risk factors


It generally manifests anywhere between 24-72 hours after sun exposure.

Even though it is not clear what factors add up to sunburn itch, studies have identified risk factors for sun-related damage to the skin.

Individuals who have fair skin and those who are not regularly exposed to the sun for extended periods of time are likely to end up with reddened skin after a day of lounging beside the pool. Even though everyone is affected by exposure to the sun, the damage is likely to show on those with lighter skin.

Those who have darker skin have more melanin which blocks out some of the damaging effects of the UV rays.


Even though frightening, some reported to find relief after taking a hot shower. If this method is used, it is vital to be careful and not to overheat or further burn the skin.

An oatmeal bath can be used since it is often a recommended approach for itchiness. Take note that scratching can worsen the pain, thus it should be avoided.

An aloe vera gel or ointment can be used for rapid relief, but this does not work for everyone.

There are also topical ointments that are available over-the-counter. Choose those that contain 1% hydrocortisone cream or 10% benzocaine cream.

What is the outlook?

Take note that discomfort is typically brief. The itchiness often runs deep into the skin and difficulty to pacify. The discomfort by the sunburn itch typically arises around 48 hours after exposure to the sun and can last for some time.

The discomfort will later settle along with the itch. Once the skin is back to normal, it is vital to be careful with prolonged exposure to the sun. Always cover up with clothing, apply a high SPF sunscreen and use an umbrella to prevent a sunburn itch from occurring again.


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