Is It Safe To Use Hydrocortisone For Sunburns?

治疗晒伤的氢化可的松霜:2023 年使用安全吗?

Updated June 22, 2024

Ever found yourself red as a lobster after a day in the sun? That's your skin crying out from damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays, better known as sunburn. And if you've had the displeasure of rocking a severe sunburn, you know that there are few things more unpleasant this side of Hades.

Now, have you heard about hydrocortisone? It's a topical steroid often used to soothe inflammation and ward off infections.

But what happens when these two cross paths? Can hydrocortisone be your saving grace against the heat of a sunburn? Or could it be your worst enemy, exacerbating the pain and discomfort?

Understanding this connection could be key for those summer beach days or winter ski trips where sunburn sneaks up on you. So, let’s dive into this topic and shed some UV-free light on it!

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Why Do We Get Sunburns?

Because you didn't put on enough sunscreen. Just kidding. But kind of not.

The sun is one of the most powerful sources of energy in the universe, and its rays can have both beneficial and harmful effects on our skin.

When our skin is exposed to sunlight, specifically ultraviolet (UV) radiation, it can cause a range of reactions. This can be anything from a nice tan to a mild sunburn to even more severe forms of skin damage. 

A man lying in a pool, with a sunburned back.

To Burn or Not to Burn

The severity of the damage indeed hinges on many factors, with sun exposure being a key determinant.

If one spent time outside and did not use a sunscreen, the risk for damage drastically increases.

To minimize this risk, it is essential to get out of the sun, most importantly during those hours when the sun’s rays are most intense. This period typically occurs midday, when the sun is directly overhead and your shadow is the shortest.

An image of the sun, viewed from space.


If you started early in the morning, consider seeking shade by this time. Importantly, remember that any part of your body can be affected by sun damage; whether it’s your face, nose, or some other area.

Therefore, always ensure to protect all exposed skin areas. This is especially true of those who have light skin.

Kids Are at Higher Risk

Fair-skinned children, especially babies, need to give special attention to avoid exposure to the sun. 

A young boy with a sunburn on his face and body.

The skin of infants is thinner than the skin of older children, and more sensitive to the sun. This puts them at greater risk for sunburn, and greater risk of skin cancer.


UV radiation is made up of different types of rays, with UVA and UVB being the most common.

UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin, causing premature aging, wrinkles, and some forms of skin cancer.

UVB rays, on the other hand, are responsible for sunburns and are the primary cause of most skin cancers.

A diagram illustrating the skin's defense against sunburn through the use of sunscreen.

When our skin is exposed to UV radiation, it triggers a response in the body to protect itself. Melanin, the pigment responsible for our skin and hair color, absorbs the UV light and helps to prevent them from penetrating deeper into the skin.

But if we get too much UV radiation, our body's defenses can't handle it and our skin cells get damaged. This damage can lead to the redness, inflammation, and pain associated with a sunburn. This can result in large blisters and peeling skin.

Additionally, repeated exposure to UV radiation over time can increase the risk of developing skin cancer. To keep our skin safe from the sun, we should always use sunscreen, wear protective clothing, and find shade during peak sunlight hours. 

Can You Use Hydrocortisone For Sunburn Relief?

Like so many things in life, the answer to this quesiton is yes and no. Perhaps a better question is "should you use hydrocortisone on a sunburn"?

Short answers: Yes you can; and no, you shouldn't.

The longer answer: To get a better understanding of what the dangers of using hydrocortisone for sunburn relief are, let's delve into the rest of this article. We’ll discuss the potential risks, alternatives, and best practices for dealing with sunburns effectively and safely.

What Is Hydrocortisone?

Hydrocortisone, a steroid hormone, is commonly used as an anti-inflammatory and anti-itch medication. It works by reducing swelling, redness, and itchiness in the skin. 

Hydrocortisone is a synthetic version of cortisol, a hormone naturally produced by the adrenal glands in the body. When you apply hydrocortisone on the skin, it works as a corticosteroid. It interacts with cells to lessen inflammation and weaken the immune response.

A man's hand holding a tube of hydrocortisone cream to soothe sunburn.Skin conditions like eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, insect bites, and sunburns can make your skin itchy, red, and swollen.

Hydrocortisone works by inhibiting the production of inflammatory substances like prostaglandins and leukotrienes. These substances are responsible for the dilation of blood vessels, swelling, and itching sensations in the skin.

By reducing inflammation, hydrocortisone helps alleviate symptoms associated with various skin conditions, including allergic reactions. In other words, hydrocortisone reduces redness by constricting blood vessels. It comes in creams, ointments, lotions, and sprays. You can buy it without a prescription or get stronger versions from a healthcare professional.

A female doctor with a stethoscope on a black background, discussing hydrocortisone.

Hydrocortisone helps with symptoms, but follow instructions carefully and only use it for the prescribed amount of time. Prolonged or excessive use can lead to skin thinning, discoloration, or other side effects.

If you are a child, pregnant, or have certain medical conditions, talk to a doctor before using hydrocortisone. They can tell you if it is safe and whether it will interact with other medications.

Why Hydrocortisone Is Not A Good Idea To Use On A Sunburn

When hydrocortisone and sunburn collide, it’s essential to tread cautiously.

Hydrocortisone can help with sunburn symptoms, but use it carefully and with a doctor's advice. Using hydrocortisone on sunburned skin without medical advice can be harmful.

One potential concern is that hydrocortisone may suppress the body’s natural healing process. Sunburn is the skin’s way of responding to damage caused by UV radiation. The redness and peeling are signs that your body is trying to repair itself. If you use hydrocortisone too soon or too often, it may delay the healing and recovery and even cause further irritation.

A close up of a person's arm with peeling skin from a sunburn.

Moreover, hydrocortisone can also make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. This means that if you apply hydrocortisone to sunburned skin and then expose it to the sun again, you may increase your risk of further sun damage and skin cancer.

It’s crucial to protect your skin from further exposure to UV radiation while using hydrocortisone for sunburn symptoms.

Dangers of Corticosteroids

Hydrocortisone is a common treatment for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Although topical steroid creams may have fewer side effects than pills or shots, they still have risks. This is especially true when used improperly or excessively.

Prolonged use of topical steroids can lead to a host of dangerous side effects. Skin thinning, or atrophy, can lead to stretch marks, easy bruising, and skin injury.

Extended hydrocortisone use can lead to stretch marks

There are other risks to consider. You might get a rash around your mouth, called perioral dermatitis. You could also get a type of dermatitis that looks like rosacea. Your skin pigmentation might also change.

One of the most severe, yet lesser known ailments stemming from corticosteroid use is Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW).

Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW)

When someone stops using topical steroids after using them for a long time, they may develop Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW). TSW is also called Red Skin Syndrome. When you take these medications for an extended time, your body gets used to them. If you suddenly stop, you may have withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms may include burning, stinging, redness, and skin peeling.

The severity and duration of TSW symptoms can vary among individuals and it can take weeks to months for the dead skin to recover. Some people may also experience insomnia and changes in body temperature. To manage TSW, consult a dermatologist or other healthcare professional. They will supervise if you need to stop using topical steroids suddenly.

Dermeleve®, the Safer Alternative

For those looking for a safer path to sunburn relief, the answer is Dermeleve®. 

Dermeleve® is a steroid-free skin soothing cream. While primarily formulated for itch relief, the cream also works on painful sunburns and bug bites, such as wasp stings.


Dermeleve® on a beach


One of the key benefits of Dermeleve® is its ability to work faster and last longer than traditional hydrocortisone creams. This means it helps sunburned skin faster and keeps soothing for longer. While topical steroids can take days and weeks to start to feel results, Dermeleve® starts working immediately. Relief can start to be felt in just a few minutes instead of days. 

It also lasts much longer than other options. A single application can last all night, allowing for a restful sleep.

You can use this safer alternative without worrying about harmful effects. No steroids, remember? You can use it as often and as frequently as you want! No prescription is needed, either.

Dermeleve® improves skin health by using natural ingredients such as ceramides and shea butter. This contributes to the overall healing process, helping your skin recover faster and in a healthier way.

To sum up, Dermeleve® is a safer and better option hydrocortisone for sunburn soothing. It is safe to use as often as needed and works quickly, making it the ideal sunburn remedy.

Other Home Remedies for Sunburn Relief

Sunburn can cause discomfort and pain, but luckily there are several home remedies that may provide relief.

Aloe vera, for instance, is a well-known natural remedy for sunburns due to its soothing and moisturizing properties. Applying aloe vera gel directly to the sunburn can help to cool the skin and hasten recovery.

Aloe vera can be poured onto a sunburn.

Likewise, taking a cool bath can also alleviate the heat and pain associated with sunburn. Adding oatmeal or baking soda to the bathwater may further soothe inflamed skin and reduce itching.

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Advil or Ibuprofen can help manage the pain and reduce inflammation. However, it’s important to avoid products that contain alcohol as they can be drying and exacerbate sunburn symptoms.

If there are open sores or large open blisters, be sure to apply an antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.

Lastly, it’s important to drink plenty of water to keep hydrated, as sunburns can cause fluid loss through the skin. Dehydration can also lead to headaches and dizziness; so be sure to drink water several times a day. 

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Wrap Up

To summarize, using hydrocortisone for sunburn symptoms may help, but use it carefully and with a doctor's advice.

It’s important to strike a delicate balance between managing discomfort and allowing your skin to heal naturally.

The best treatment for a sunburn is to prevent sunburns from occurring in the first place. This means being smart about your time in the sun. If you know that you will be outside on a sunny day, wear a hat with a brim and long sleeved clothes.

If you must be exposed to the sun, be sure to use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. If you will be swimming or sweating a lot, multiple applications of sunscreen is needed throughout the day.

Hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and hydrocortisone on a wooden table.

Remember, sunburns are sneaky. They can occur even when it's overcast and you wouldn't know a burn is occurring until it's too late. Sunburns promote premature aging of the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer.

If you do get a sunburn, be sure to avoid hydrocortisone and the accompanying risks of side effects.

Dermeleve® is the faster, safer alternative.

Stay mindful, stay protected, and enjoy the sunshine responsibly!

Q: Can I use hydrocortisone for sunburn relief?

A: Yes, hydrocortisone cream can be used. However, one must be very aware of the risks involved in using topical steroids. A safer option is Dermeleve®, which is free of steroids, works fast, and is safe to use as long and as frequently as desired.

Q: What is the best way to prevent sunburn?

To avoid sunburn, spend less time in the sun, especially during peak hours. Wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of a sunburn to help prevent too much sun exposure.

Q: Does hydrocortisone cream protect against skin cancer?

A: No, hydrocortisone cream does not protect against skin cancer. The best way to prevent skin cancer is to prevent excessive sun exposure and perform regular skin checks.

Q: What should I do if I have a severe sunburn?

If you have a bad sunburn with blisters, swelling, and pain, go see a doctor.

Q: Can I use zinc oxide ointment for sunburn instead of hydrocortisone cream?

Zinc oxide ointment can protect the skin from sunburn, but it may not reduce inflammation like hydrocortisone cream.

Q: Are there any risks associated with using hydrocortisone for sunburn soothing?

Using hydrocortisone cream for a long time or applying too much can make the skin thinner and cause other problems. It is important to follow the recommended usage guidelines.