Sunburn on Feet: Best Ways to Heal Swollen Feet From Sunburn

Sunburn of feet and its treatment

Sunburn can damage our skin and may even cause skin DNA changes. Thankfully sunscreen and other protective measures can prevent most of the danger.

However, we mostly think applying sunscreen to our feet is unnecessary. Research shows feet are generally the worst protected areas by sunscreen.

Even if we apply sunscreen, it can get washed away if we’re on the beach.

Many of us may get away with this, but some end up having sunburn on their feet.

Sunburn can cause foot swelling, redness, itching, peeling skin, dehydration, and dryness. In severe cases, it may lead to fever, blisters, and infection. There is also a risk of skin cancer.

You can treat sunburned feet and reduce swelling by keeping them cool by soaking them in a tub of water. Drink more water and keep your skin moisturized. Use aloe vera gel and cold compresses for relief. Painkillers also help a lot.

Let’s understand how to treat sunburned legs, swollen ankles, and feet in detail.

How to treat sunburned feet and reduce swelling

There is no immediate cure for sunburn. It usually takes 2-3 days to heal. We can reduce the pain and inflammation and provide a soothing effect to the affected area by using these steps:

Bathe Your Feet In Cool Water

A man soaking his feet in cold water

Soak your feet in cool water. It reduces swelling and burning sensation.

  • Fill a tub or any other container with cool water
  • Dip your feet above ankle height up to the knees into the water and keep them inside for 10 minutes
  • Do not mix soap in the water; it can cause itching and irritation
  • Pat dry after taking out and moisturize thoroughly

You can mix Epsom salt, baking soda, apple cider vinegar, or oatmeal in the water for additional benefits. But this is only optional.

Oatmeal softens and moisturizes skin naturally. Epsom salt and baking soda provide a soothing effect and help reduce inflammation (swelling). Vinegar reduces peeling skin, and it has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Caution: Don’t put ice inside water, as ice-cold water can damage sensitive skin.

Drink Plenty of Fluids

Sunburn can be accompanied by dehydration and dryness. Drink a lot of fluids to restore the water balance of the skin. It also accelerates the process of healing.


Sunburn can leave your feet dry, rough, and scaly. Moisturizer forms a protective barrier on the skin which helps lock the moisture inside the skin. It prevents further damage to the feet’ skin and softens it.

Use a moisturizer containing cocoa or shea butter to promote faster healing.

Anti-Inflammatory and Painkiller Medicines

I advise patients to use OTC painkillers like ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen. They have anti-inflammatory effects, which help reduce swelling in sunburned feet. They also significantly reduce pain.

Aloe Vera Gel

Aloe vera gel for feet sunburn

You can use aloe vera gel for its anti-inflammatory role. It reduces swelling, cools down the skin, provides relief, and fastens healing.

Cool Compresses

Cool compresses provide pain relief and a soothing effect.

  1. Dip a neat and soft cloth in cool water
  2. Wrap it around your foot for 15 minutes
  3. Re-apply several times a day as needed

Things to Avoid

Sun Exposure

The last thing you’d want to do is to expose your feet to the sun again. It could worsen the situation and further damage the feet.

Petroleum Jelly

It can trap heat inside the skin and slow down healing.

Anesthetic Creams

They can provide temporary relief but, in the long run, may cause irritation and allergic reaction.

Oils and Oil-Based Products 

They can clog skin pores and prevent skin from cooling down. It slows down the healing of skin and swelling.

Avoid Popping Blisters and Peeling Skin

Popping the blisters on sunburned swollen feet can lead to infections and permanent scar marks on the skin. It also slows down the healing process and increases the intensity of pain and irritation.

If you pop a blister by mistake, apply a clean and damp washcloth dipped in cool water over the affected area. If the blister is bleeding, you should consult your physician, who will advise an antibiotic cream to prevent infection.

How to Wear Shoes with Sunburned Feet

It is better to avoid wearing shoes or socks on your feet in the initial stages of sunburn. However, if you must wear shoes, go for soft and loose shoes or socks.

Tight shoes and socks lead to friction and pressure, which results in pain and irritation. It also prevents much-needed cooling of the skin.

Socks for sunburned feet should be loose and breathable. They should be made up of a comfortable fabric, preferably cotton.

Don’t wear socks for long, take off your socks periodically to cool down your feet.

Infographic with important steps to heal sunburned feet

What to Do for Bad Sunburn on Feet and When to See a Doctor

Most cases of sunburn can easily be handled at home with the remedies we discussed above. However, some signs and symptoms of bad sunburn on feet warrant immediate medical attention.

  • Pus filled blisters
  • Breaks in the skin
  • Fever with chills
  • Intense pain, fatigue, or dizziness
  • Large burn area involved, including feet, ankles, and legs

Your physician may treat you with the following:

  • Antibiotics if there are signs of infection
  • Intravenous fluids if you are dehydrated
  • Anti Inflammatory medication and painkillers
  • Steroid creams to reduce itching and irritation

Swollen Feet and Ankles From Sunburn

Swollen feet and ankles from sunburn

Sunburn in any part of the body can cause swelling, but it’s more common in ankles and feet. Sun’s UV rays damage and cause inflammation in the skin tissue. It causes blood vessels in the feet and ankles to enlarge. Enlarged blood vessels, coupled with the effect of gravity on the feet, can lead to blood pooling in the feet.

How Long Do Swollen Feet from Sunburn Last?

Swelling from sunburn can last up to two days. It slowly heals itself in most cases. But sometimes it gets prolonged up to one week. This mostly happens in severe cases of sunburn. You should immediately consult a doctor if the swelling does not gradually reduce even after two days.

Keep the Feet Elevated With a Pillow While Sleeping to Reduce Swelling

Our goal is to diminish the pooling of blood in the feet. To reduce swelling in sunburned feet and ankles, we can assist the natural healing process by keeping the feet elevated from other parts of the body while sleeping. It reduces the effect of gravity and helps reduction of water build-up.

How to Prevent Sunburned Feet in Future

Sunscreen applied on feet on a beach

Most of us understand the use of sunscreen for the prevention of sunburn. But we neglect our feet and exposed parts of the legs and ankles.

Here are a few suggestions to prevent swollen feet from sunburn:

  • Apply sunscreen from top to bottom on all exposed areas of the body
  • Use waterproof sunscreen if you are going to the beach
  • Use at least SPF 30 or higher rated product
  • Use sunscreen with both UVA and UVB coverage and re-apply every 2 hours
  • Wear clothing and socks with an SPF rating. SPF clothes are specially made to prevent harm from the UV rays of the sun

Can the Bottom of Your Feet Get Sunburned?

The bottom of the feet, if exposed to the sun’s UV rays, can also get sunburned, just like any other part of your skin. It doesn’t have to be direct sunlight exposure; indirect reflected UV rays from nearby reflective objects can also cause sunburn.

Medical research shows sunburn causes the sand to heat up, leading to 1st, 2nd, or sometimes 3rd-degree sunburn. Sand can get heated up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit even though the outside temperature may be only 75 degrees.

So, the bottom of the feet can get sunburned by direct UV rays exposure or indirectly by the hot sand. This kind of heat injury to the feet is also called beach feet.

Diabetic Sunburn Feet

Diabetic patients have slow wound healing and decreased sensations in their feet. It is because of low blood flow and nerve damage caused by diabetes. They also feel an increased urge to scratch and itch. Therefore diabetic feet need extra care.

Patients with diabetic feet can follow these steps to treat sunburn on their feet:

  • Keep your feet clean, cool, and dry
  • Keep your feet elevated when going to sleep. This will prevent blood and fluids from pooling in ankles and feet
  • Do not put pressure on the sunburned area. You may not feel pain, but it can lead to blisters
  • Do not pop blisters. It can lead to slow or difficult healing of open infected wounds
  • If you have an infected diabetic foot, you should immediately consult with a doctor
  • Take anti-inflammatory drugs for swelling after consultation with your physician
  • You may have the urge to scratch your feet but fight that urge to prevent any damage

People with diabetes can follow these steps to avoid sunburn on their feet in the future:

  • Always keep a visible watch for redness, swelling, and blisters whenever you go out in the sun. It may be difficult to feel these symptoms in diabetic feet
  • Always wear closed, comfortable, and loose shoes whenever going out. Avoid sandles and flip-flops if possible
  • Watch out for any sharp or damaging objects, and try not to walk barefoot

Sunburn on Legs While Pregnant

Medical research says women can have a build-up of extra fluids in their lower legs during pregnancy. It can cause swelling and edema. If your feet get sunburned during pregnancy, the risk of swelling on your legs, ankles, and feet increases.

With an already higher risk of swelling in the feet because of pregnancy, you need to be extra careful when outside in sun exposure.

If you get your feet sunburned and swollen, you should follow the methods we have already discussed in this article.

Consult a doctor if the symptoms of sunburn don’t gradually improve.


When going out in the open, it’s easy to neglect to protect our feet from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Sunburn can often cause swollen feet and ankles.

This is a painful experience; we can use several methods to reduce pain and swelling. Bathe your feet and lower legs in cool water. Use aloe vera gel for excellent anti-inflammatory properties. Wrap your feet in cool compresses and moisturize them. Drink plenty of fluids.

Avoid wearing shoes if possible otherwise, wear loose and comfortable shoes. The same goes for socks. Take OTC painkillers to reduce pain and swelling.

Patients with diabetic feet must be extra careful and keep their feet clean and cool. Pregnant ladies already have a risk of developing swelling in their lower legs. They should consult a doctor if the swelling gets worse.


What to do for bad sunburn on feet?

Bad sunburn on the feet can lead to blisters, swelling, severe pain, or infection. In such cases, it is better to avoid further sun exposure, take anti-inflammatory medicine, use cool compresses, and consult your doctor as soon as possible.

Dr Ahmed

Dr Ahmed is a medical graduate of National University of Medical Science. He has 7+ years experience in medical writing.

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