How To Treat Uncomfortable Sunburned Lips

Most of us have had it hammered home to us pretty hard that when we go outside for any length of time, it's important to protect our skin from the damaging effects of prolonged sun exposure. Whether it's wearing sunscreen or protective clothing, we are aware that taking precautions reduces the risk of sunburn, premature aging, and more serious conditions like skin cancer. 

Yet, many of us tend to forget about one of the most sensitive and vulnerable parts of our bodies: our lips. Our lips are covered by a very thin layer of skin compared to many other parts of our bodies, and they also contain less melanin, which is the pigment in our skin that protects us from the sun (via Medical News Daily). As such, even if we put sunscreen on our faces before heading out the door, if we neglect to protect our lips, we could be asking for trouble.

If you've recently spent some time outdoors in the sun without considering lip protection, you might be dealing with some discomfort. If that's the case, your lips may be sunburned. Here's how to tell if you've got sunburned lips and what to do to help them heal.  

How do you know if your lips are sunburnt?

The effects of sun exposure can take up to a full day (24 hours) to become fully noticeable. Therefore, it's not uncommon to get home from a beach day and feel fine, but then wake up the next morning with red, itchy skin. A sunburn on our bodies is pretty easy to spot, but when it's on our lips, what should we be looking for?

A more mild case of sunburnt lips can present as discomfort, itching, burning, redness, or minor swelling. If, however, small dark blisters appear on your lips, you are likely dealing with a more serious case of sunburn (via Medical News Daily). 

While most cases of sunburnt lips, even those that result in blisters, can be healed at home, if you have any symptoms of an allergic reaction to the sun, like severe swelling of the lips or tongue, a rash, or difficulty eating, drinking, or swallowing, you should seek professional medical care right away. 

How to treat sunburnt lips at home

The first and most important thing you should do to help sunburnt lips heal is to avoid further sun exposure until your lips are feeling back to normal (via If you must go into the sun, make sure to wear both physical protection like a sun hat and also an SPF product on your lips. If you don't like the idea of applying sunscreen itself directly to your lips, there are several lip balm options with SPF built in.

Once you are back at home, using a simple cold compress can help reduce discomfort, relieve the burning sensation, and can also reduce swelling. To do this, simply take a wash cloth and run it under cold water or dip it in ice water, and then hold it gently to your lips. You can repeat this as often as feels best to you. 

After a cold compress, it's a good idea to moisturize your lips to help relieve any dryness and flaking and to aid in healing. A moisturizer with aloe vera in it might be particularly soothing, as aloe is known to help relieve the symptoms of a burn and also help to speed healing. If you choose an aloe gel, please make sure it is 100% pure aloe vera in case it is ingested.   

Other at-home remedies for sunburnt lips

It's important that if you are sunburned, you take extra care to stay hydrated. When you have a sunburn, your skin is using more moisture from your body than normal to heal itself, so it's easier to become dehydrated (via Medical News Today). Drink plenty of water, and if you like sports drinks, they can be a great way to stay hydrated as well. 

Speaking of water, when you bathe, shower, or wash your face, you will find that your lips will be far more sensitive to water temperature than they usually are. So if you are used to washing your face with hot water, you may want to turn down the temperature a little and use tepid water instead to reduce the risk of pain and discomfort. 

And while this may sound odd, using a compress of skim milk rather than water can also be helpful for reducing pain, as the proteins in the milk actually create a protective film over your lips, reducing sensitivity. Further, moisturizers that feature vitamin E, coconut oil, almond oil, shea butter, or beeswax are all good choices to help sooth and promote the healing of your burnt lips.   

If you have blisters or are in real pain

The rules change a bit if your sunburnt lips are more severe. If you are in real pain or if you have blisters, there are some at-home remedies you should not use, and there are some over-the-counter medications that you should.

Taking NSAID pain relievers, if you tolerate them, can help reduce swelling and pain in severely sunburnt lips (via Further, topical products that contain glycerine, which creates a protective barrier, and panthenol, which retains moisture, can help speed the healing. If you have blisters, you should actually avoid using products that contain oils or petroleum jelly, as these can clog the pores around the blisters, which could potentially cause infection. Similarly, do not use topical medications like benzocaine and lidocaine, which can also worsen symptoms. 

Bandaging the blisters is also a good idea if you are able to manage it, but as it can be challenging to put bandages on your mouth area, if you cannot use bandages, just make sure not to pick at or scratch at the blisters or any scabs that may form. While we realize scabbing can be uncomfortable and you might consider it unsightly, it's a good sign that your lips are healing. Let them! 

Prevention is the best medicine

Once you've had sunburned lips, you're likely to never ever want to experience such a thing again. As such, prevention is your best bet. Wearing protective clothing like a hat is a great idea, and using an SPF product on your lips will also help. 

Allure has created a list of the best SPF products formulated specifically for lip protection, and some familiar brands are on it. The beauty magazine suggests Supergoop's Play lip balms, which features nourishing oils as well as broad spectrum SPF 30 protection. Paula's Choice Lipscreen also makes the list, offering the convenience of a stick lip balm and SPF 50 protection. If you're looking for a pop of color and shine along with your protection, Allure suggests Colorescience's Lip Shine SPF 35, which wears like a tinted lip gloss, but protects like a sunscreen.

So get out and enjoy the sun this season; just make sure to protect your lovely lips while you're at it!