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Why does my Sunburn Look Worse After Taking a Shower?

By J. Beam
Updated May 21, 2024
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Sunburn can be a painful reminder of forgetting sunscreen on a hot summer day. Sunburn is either first-degree or second-degree burn of the skin, depending on the duration and severity of exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Many people take a cool shower to relieve the burning of the skin, but then feel it made their sunburn look worse. However, a shower won’t actually make sunburn worse and in reality can actually help it.

The reasons why a shower may make a sunburn look worse varies. It takes at least two hours after prolonged, unprotected sun exposure for the first signs of redness to appear. It takes almost 24 hours before the full extent of the damage is visible. Since most people shower after being at the beach or pool or having been at some other outdoor activity, a shower may appear to have made a sunburn appear worse simply because of the time that has lapsed.

Another reason why a shower may make a sunburn look worse is because most people with sunburn take cool showers. Cold water closes the pores of the skin, which in turn traps in the heat and can make the skin appear redder. While a cool shower feels best, it may make your sunburn look different and trap the heat. A warm shower will not close the pores and the heat can escape. Hot showers should be avoided with sunburn.

There are several reasons why a shower can be good for sunburned skin. The water helps hydrate the skin and keep it clean. With proper care, most sunburns resolve with minimal if any short-term complications. Keep the skin well moisturized, but do not apply petroleum jelly, butter, or any other lubricant that blocks pores. Aloe is one of the best treatments for sunburn. Many skin lotions and gels contain aloe. Cool compresses made with towels or wash cloths will also help alleviate the pain.

Drink plenty of fluids to replace lost moisture and avoid dehydration. Do not avoid showers, even if you think it makes your sunburn look worse. Clean skin will prevent infection, which is rare but can occur, and moisturizing after a shower will help prevent peeling. If you experience severe sunburn or extreme pain or your sunburn is accompanied by symptoms such as vomiting, dehydration, or dizziness, you should call your doctor.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon1007202 — On Jun 16, 2022

Pores do not open or close. It’s physically impossible. They do not have muscles.

By Lisa123 — On Jul 11, 2014

I really liked the article. One more thing that might be is that your skin is very sensitive to water and when water is poured on your body it paves the way to a reaction and consequently, the sunburns look worse.

By anon342072 — On Jul 17, 2013

I think some people think that with a tan, pale skin looks healthier, eyes look brighter and teeth whiter. I personally don't like to sit in the sun, so I rarely get sunburned now. Just a light tan from walking around.

By anon339755 — On Jun 26, 2013

Why do Caucasians want a tan? Simple - it's the style. Some 100 years ago Caucasians wanted to avoid tanning at all costs. Women carried parasols, wore hats and veils and bleached their skins with buttermilk and lemon juice to avoid any hint of a tan. Style. That's all it is.

By anon91596 — On Jun 22, 2010

@anon88925: I am caucasian and I don't like to wear a t-shirt when out on the farm. I don't carry sun screen everywhere I go.

By anon91434 — On Jun 21, 2010

anon88925: having a sunburn doesn't mean the person was trying to tan.

By anon88925 — On Jun 07, 2010

I have a question. Why do Caucasian individuals want a tan? Why can't they be satisfied with pale skin instead of trying to have darker skin? I don't mean this in a mean or racist way but, seriously, why? Be happy with the pale skin you have and stay out of the sun. You can get vitamin D through pills or food.

By anon31933 — On May 13, 2009

Over 10 years ago an old man told me and my sister that if we got sunburned we should take a hot shower and stay in for awhile and then as cold as we could get it. This would open the pores to release the heat and then cool you off. This seems crazy, however, I sunburn and peel easily but have not peeled for over 10 years since I started this remedy. Depending on how much sun you have gotten you may have to repeat over a couple of days. It works!

By salexd69 — On Apr 10, 2009

Wonderful. But, if you shower within an hour of tanning (or burning) it will actually work to stop the effects and only look worse at first.

By dudla — On Jun 13, 2008

I always experience this but not only for sunburns. It happens even when I've just gotten a tan too. I'll take a shower hours after being out in the sun, and after the shower, I'll have a brighter burn or a darker tan than I did going in. I always assumed that somehow the water helped the color just set in or something.

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