Here’s Exactly How to Treat Sunburn on Lips

As with any sunburn, you’re going to be dealing with the immediate consequences for anywhere from three to five days. And the state of your lips might get worse before it gets better: “When the lip heals, the dead skin peels off and sheds,” says Dr. Saedi, noting that it’s normal (and, in fact, a sign of healing) to also experience some itchiness during the process.

Can sunburned lips cause cold sores and blisters?

But notice we said those symptoms are the immediate consequences — because unfortunately, a sunburn on your lips can sometimes cause more trouble down the line. 

“The heat and the stress to the skin of a sunburn can lead to the development of cold sores,” says Dr. Saedi. Cold sores, of course, are not to be confused with the aforementioned blisters that result from sunburn in and of itself. “The blisters [associated with] cold sores are different in that they are usually clustered together and painful,” according to Dr. Saedi.

Sun damage on the lips can also result in lingering discoloration in the form of hyperpigmentation. But far more disturbingly, “a bad sunburn on the lips, just like on other parts of your body, can lead to an increased risk for skin cancer,” says Dr. Hartman. “I do see patients with skin cancerous growths on the lips, including melanoma, which is the deadliest form.”

How do you treat sunburn on lips?

That said, if you notice an unusual spot on your lips or a sore that won’t heal, visit a dermatologist as soon as you can. But to treat the symptoms of lip sunburn in the short term, there are a few steps you can take from the comfort of home.

“If you find yourself with a mild sunburn, you can use a cool compress on your lips to alleviate some of the swelling and bring down the heat in your lips,” says Dr. Hartman. This trick works nicely when used in conjunction with an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like Advil, which helps relieve mild pain.

Applying aloe vera gel to the lips can also help ease irritation. (Dr. Saedi suggests chilling it first to maximize the soothing benefits.) On the flip side, at this stage it’s best to avoid any lip products with petrolatum, like Vaseline. “Those will actually seal in the heat and prolong the burn and any painful symptoms,” Dr. Hartman says.

Can you prevent sunburn on lips?

Now, here’s the good news: sunburn on your lips is totally avoidable if you’re diligent about applying SPF. While Dr. Hartman says you can apply your favorite facial sunscreen over your lips for some protection, using a lip balm with SPF 30 or higher is ideal.