Severe Sunburn Itch Causes, Relief, Bumps, Rash, Peeling and Home Remedies

It always is advisable to apply sunscreen when venturing out. This is for a good reason; the extent of damage caused by ultra violet rays to the skin is undesirable. Even worse is when the damage is accompanied by sunburn itch. Below we explore the causes of an itchy sunburn, how long it lasts and how to identify severe sunburn itch. We also bring you sunburn itch relief products and home remedies to help you soothe the affected part of the skin.

Sunburn Itch

When outdoor without enough sunscreen, the skin gets damaged by ultra violet. As a result, it becomes sore, tender, red and warm. This is when one is said to have a sunburn. For some people, these skin damage symptoms are accompanied by a sunburn itch.

Why Does a Sunburn Itch? What Causes Sunburn Itch?

The UV rays responsible for sun burns do not penetrate deep into the skin. They tend to damage the surface layer which is packed with C-fibers. These are special nerve fibers responsible for skin itch.

Itch is the skin’s mechanism of protecting the skin against minor injuries that are not deemed strong enough to cause pain. Since sunburns occur on the same surface hosting the C-fiber nerves, there is a resultant itch until the skin heals.

How Long does Sunburn Itch Last

After the skin has been exposed to UV rays, sunburn start forming and the skin begins to turn red. Skin reddening is at its peak between 12 and 24 hours. At this point, it is likely that no sunburn itch is experienced.

Depending on the severity of the sunburn, hell’s itch will manifest 48 to 72 hours after exposure. For mild burns, any accompanying discomfort will be gone within 72 hours. This will continue for about a week while the skin heals itself. To hasten the healing process, interventions are necessary. These come in the form of sunburn itch relief products as will be discussed elsewhere in this article.

Sunburn Itch Bumps, Rash and Peeling

In some cases, some people will experience sunburn itch rash. This is also referred to as sun poisoning and results from photo-sensitivity. In other cases, scratching the area may lead to bumps.

With time and as the sunburns heal, blistering could be experienced. This may range from fine blisters that arise from itching or large ones filled with fluid that are surrounded by raw skin underneath. Once these appear, the sunburn itch may be irresistible. The best though is to soothe the itch to give room for them to pop on themselves. Once this happens, the skin around will start sloughing.

Itchy sunburn peeling is a normal part of the healing process. As the skin heals, the dead sunburned cells shed off to give room for newer ones. This helps to even out the burns and restore skin pigmentation.

Severe Sunburn Itch, Sunburn Itching Really Bad

While some people are lucky dealing with sunburns, others are not. Acute sunburn itch affects five to ten percent of sunburn sufferers. According to the National Post, “for upward of two days, the patients are completely consumed by the itch, unable to work or even think straight.”

Also known as Hell’s Itch, this condition in its severity has the sunburn itching really bad that an online user describes it as “a maddening, body twitching, hands shaking, insatiable itch that literally had me in tears.”

Although this sunburn itch may feel like an allergic reaction, antihistamines will not help in soothing it. When an unbearable intense sunburn itch results, it is best to keep the part of the skin cool. This will help to numb the nerves and put off the itch. Severe sunburn itch should be gone within two days.

Sunburn Itch Relief and Home Remedies to Stop Sunburn Itch

Sunburn itch treatment is necessary to help soothe the skin and to prevent you from scratching the area as this could see the skin break. This could then subject the area to secondary infections.

cucumber sunburn itch relief

Cucumber for sunburn itch relief

To soothe the area, use the simple sunburn itch relief products and home remedies to stop sunburn itch discussed below.

Topical Creams

Topical steroid creams such as one percent hydrocortisone cream are effective in alleviating itching. Available over the counter, these help to alleviate and soothe the itch. Use as directed by the manufacturer.

Calamine Lotion

Calamine is a skin soothing lotion that will help curb sunburn itch. It has a soothing effect and will help relieve itchy sunburns. This is available over the counter.

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera helps to moisturize and soothe the sunburned skin. Some aloe creams contain lidocaine which is an anesthetic that helps relief sunburn itch and pain. In the healing process, it will help moisturize the peeling skin and protect it from excessive dryness and flaking.


This natural remedy for sunburn itch contains antioxidant and analgesic properties which are essential in soothing the skin. You could mash or blend cucumbers to get a paste for use on the skin. Apply it on the sunburns to soothe itchy peeling skin.

Baking Soda

In case you want a home remedy that can work for the skin, baking soda is your go to product. Alkaline in nature, it helps in restoring the pH of the skin.

To cure itchy sunburns, make a baking soda paste by combining a reasonable amount with clean water. Mix until a consistent paste if formed and apply this on the affected part of the body. Where a large area is sunburned, add a cup or two of baking soda to a bath tub and soak in it for a while.


Turmeric contains soothing elements that are beneficial to itchy skin. Mix turmeric powder with water and stir it into a fine paste. Apply this on the itchy sunburn and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Use some cold water to wash it off afterwards. Do not let it stay on the skin too long as it could cause temporary skin discoloration.

Apple Cider Vinegar

This is acidic in nature and thus helps in balancing the skin’s pH. As a result, faster healing is promoted. It also has antiseptic properties that aid healing as well as eliminate secondary infections. Spray apple cider vinegar on the skin and allow it to dry before washing off. Reapply whenever the itch strikes.


Oatmeal is a common product in our kitchens. It helps to serve more than one purpose and can be used to sooth sunburn itch. Colloidal oatmeal can also be used to soothe the burns.

Add a cup of oatmeal into your bath tub and soak in it. You could also grind oatmeal into powder and add some water to it to make a paste. Apply this on the skin and wait for 15 minutes before washing it off.

Sunburn Itch Relief Tips

In addition to the above remedies, here are additional tips that might help in dealing with itchy sunburns:

  • Avoid exposure to the sun until the itch is resolved and when you do, remember to use sunscreen protection.
  • Apply cold compresses every 15 minutes when the itch strikes.
  • Stay in loose clothing to reduce friction and prevent more irritation on the skin.
  • Where the sunburn itch is accompanied by pain, take some painkillers.
  • For severe sunburns that won’t get better with the above remedies, see your dermatologist.

Sources and References

Web MD: Sun Reactions

The Derm Blog: Why do Sunburns Itch?

Quora: Do I have the Hell’s Itch

National Post: Whitest Man’s Burden