Sunburned Lips? Essential Care Tips and Remedies

Posted by Azadeh Shirazi MD on

With the sun staying out longer and coming on stronger for the summer, be sure to take extra steps to protect yourself. Many patients I see in my practice have sun cancer on their lower lip and with delicate skin in the area it is important you avoid sun poisoning. Sun poisoning can happen anywhere on the body but most often on frequently unprotected skin. 

What is sun poisoning?

Sun poisoning is often very painful and usually manifests 12-24 hours after sun exposure.  Initially, there is redness and swelling with possible fluid-filled blisters. Your skin can feel itchy or have a burning sensation. It can be excruciating to eat, move, or talk. In the later stages, the skin will become dry, peel, or develop sores and scabs. 

Can I get sun poisoning on my lips?

Yes, it’s possible to get sun poisoning, especially since many people often skip applying SPF on their lips. The lips are especially susceptible to sunburn/photodermatitis and sun damage as the skin is much thinner and lacks the protective melanin pigment found in other areas of the body. Also, if you are wearing a shiny lip balm without SPF like Aquaphor or lip gloss, the shine from these types of products magnifies the UV rays and intensifies the degree of damage. It’s like laying out with baby oil. You’re going to experience a much more intense burn at a faster rate. 

Be sure you apply SPF protection on your lips as they are more prone to sun damage. I treat a lot of skin cancers particularly on the lower lip as people underestimate the degree of damage this part of the skin gets from UV exposure. If you are wearing a lip balm or lip gloss outdoors make sure it has SPF.  I suggest products like Pout Plump 30 with SPF 30 as clear lip gloss or EltaMD UV lip balm SPF36.  You can also use the same SPF you apply on your face onto your lips.

What is the healing time for a sunburn?

It can take 7 days to heal a sunburn depending on severity and the healing process depends on skin type, initial care, hydration, and avoiding further sun exposure. 

Treating Sun Poisoning

To treat sun poisoning, apply aloe vera gel or a medicated cream with hydrocortisone, like Soothe HC, several times a day. This helps control inflammation, hydrate the skin, and heal the burn. Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can alleviate pain and discomfort. Staying hydrated and avoiding further sun exposure until symptoms improve is crucial. Instead of using ice directly on the area, apply a bag of frozen peas or a cool compress wrapped in cloth for 30 seconds to a minute to reduce inflammation. After the first 24 hours, use a healing balm to retain moisture and create a protective barrier for optimal skin repair.

Dr Azi Tip: Keeping your aloe vera gel or medicated creams like Soothe HC in the fridge can help further reduce inflammation.

Dr. Azi’s Recommended Products

Soothe HC
Shea butter 
Coconut oil (Nourishing but may cause sensitivity in some individuals)
Aquaphor Spray
La Roche-Posay Cicaplast Baume
CeraVe Healing Ointment
SkinSmart Spray

Using these products regularly will help control inflammation, hydrate the skin, and promote healing.

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Dr. Azadeh Shirazi, MD is a Board-Certified Dermatologist.

Specializing in medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology, Dr. Shirazi received her undergraduate and medical degrees from the University Of Kentucky College of Medicine. After doing a Research Fellowship at Harvard Medical School at the Wellman Center for Photomedicine, she completed her residency training in Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the prestigious Mayo Clinic in addition to completing her training in dermatology and cosmetic surgery at the University of California San Diego.

She has received multiple research scholarships from iconic institutions including Harvard University and the University Of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and has several peer-reviewed publications to her name.