That insane sunburn ITCH

Have any of you gotten a fairly bad sunburn that itched beyond belief a few days after exposure? Anyone know the exact whys of it?

The story behind the question: I was out in the sun the other day, without sunscreen (which I will never, ever do again), for about an hour and exposing my back. For a while, there was no hint of color or being burned. Three hours after coming out of the sun–a full three hours!–I was bright red from the nape of my neck to my ankles. It hurt like hell, but was tolerable.

Then yesterday (two days after exposure), I developed an itch on my back around my shoulders. I don’t mean an itch–I mean an ITCH. It was a maddening, body twitching, hands shaking, insatiable itch that literally had me in tears. I tried aloe vera, nothing…only thing that calmed it down (but not eliminating it) was maximum stength Benadryl gel, like what’s used for poison oak, ivy, and sumac.

A final observation–about twelve hours later, while changing, I noticed my back was peeling so much it looked like I had cobwebs hanging all over my back.

I know the itch must mean the skin is healing, but nothing compares to that itch–why so much more intense? And does anyone else share in this experience? (My family and boyfriend do not identify with me on this.)


“Me fail English? That’s unpossible!”

“English? Who needs that? I’m never going to England.”

Two possibilities (or a combination of both; or…neither):

  1. allergic reaction to the sun. It happens, even in people who’ve never experienced it before. My niece experienced a severe sunburn a few weeks ago and swelled up like a Johnson brat.
  2. dead, dry, flaky, peeling skin is itchy stuff (think dandruff).

To commiserate with you, last weekend I got one hell of a sunburn on my forehead and ears (my ears for frip’s sake!)and a day later all the skin peeled off (I looked like something from Night of the Living Dead) and it itched like hell.

I’m probably dead wrong here, but I think it has something to do with the nerve endings in the epidermis. I have experienced the same sensation from small abrasions and cuts as they undergo the healing process. When a nerve is damaged, it must go through a repair process…might that not result in an itchy sensation?

I don’t know the whys – but you should be using baby powder or the like instead of a gel.

I had a similar sunburn when I was on my honeymoon cruise. I tried gels and lotions and none of them helped. I literally could not walk down the hall of the ship without stopping at every post to scratch my back on (you should have seen some of the looks I got). Then one of our table-companions suggested powder. I went right to the ship’s store and bought some. My wife poured it on my back and it was wonderful. It stopped itching! From then on, whenever the itch came back, she put some powder on and it went away.

“If your self-worth comes from being at the center of the Universe, then science will make you uncomfortable. If your self-worth comes from other things, then science won’t bother you.” – Carl Sagan

That’s very true, except when I was itchy, there was no peeling–it was about 12 hours after the Itch Attack that the skin had begun to peel. Still, maybe the itch was the skin starting to, uh, separate and prepare to peel that made it itch???

I can’t explain the itch, but I can suggest a way to get some relief. I had an allergic reaction to some medication a few years ago which resulted in an extremely intense itch all over my body which no topical ointment could help. I was quite literally going insane but happened across one thing that got me through it: sit in a bath of cool water and tear your hands through it like crazy. It keeps your hands busy, and all the splashing and noise helps to distract you from the itch. Plus if you do it long enough, you’ll be completely knackered afterwards. The pills they gave me to counter the allergy didn’t kick in for two days and without those baths, I think I would’ve been locked up as a nutter for good!

Hope this helps. :slight_smile:

A bad sunburn will injure more than just the top layer of skin, and that itch is a side effect of nerve endings rebuilding themselves. Same thing happens with any cut or skin abrasion (DON’T scratch that scab, you’ll make it BLEED).

The skin, being the largest organ in the body, can cause misery by the square foot.

I can’t believe Laura Rae’s description of the insane sunburn “itch” My experience was identical. I have had a lot of sunburns in my life but never with the “itch” I also tried a lot of things, nothing worked except time (about two days). I am now in the managable itch/peeling stage.

Itching is simply the body trying to bring more blood to an area. It does need to do that in this case to make more skin. easy.

I can had a sunburn so bad a few weeks ago I had to call the doctor. Benadryl helps but,I have to agree with David on the powder issue. I don’t think regular old baby powder works as well as Gold Bond. Trust me on this and give it a try.I have a lot of summer skin allergies that drive me batty,and the Gold Bone seems to relieve the itching the best.

If you get a sunburn, especially a deep one [purple-ish] you need a burn cream ASAP. Light sunburn you can use a cream from the drugstore. Deeper ones should be treated by prescription cream.

Most burns respond well to just cool water, whether they are from teh sun or flame.

I got the sunburn itch AND a lovely rash that finally took medical care. The itch was overwelming! It drove me crazy. For sunburn relief in general, a tub with some vinegar in it will help a lot. But if your gonna peel, nothing will stop it, because the skin is so damaged.

Hey guys, I’m currently suffering from a extreme itch, I also searched for a way to remove the itch. Tries every thing but did not work… I was very desparate. Sorry for the spelling errors this is not my language. It sarted about a day after the burn, I read on another post that pepperment oil works, I couldn’t find pepperment oil any were so I bought pepperment drops. It realy works. Can’t believe it, 15 to 20 min and the itch is almost completely gone… Try it pepperment soothes the soul. I was screaming so bad sounded like I was taken over by a demon. But feels much better after the pepperment.

Not sure how well noxema creme works on zombies, but it works on burns =)

Your back has far less receptors per square inch than your hands.

So to make up for their sparsity, they are more sensitive.

The dead skin blocks the sweat and oil pores…causes sweat filled blisters and white heads… one of them happened to form right where there is a pain/touch receptor…


Welcome to the Straight Dope, burnbabyburn! It seems you have resurrected a ‘zombie’ thread. :eek:
No worries, it happens to us ‘old timers’, too. :smiley:

You might want to review the ‘rules for posting’, though.
Just a friendly suggestion. :slight_smile:

Do people with memory problem need more cream, because they skin more often forgets how to repair itself ??

No the skin doesn’t need any assistance, in fact all you do is risking causing problems by putting creams onto sensitive skin… eg feeding bacteria, which will could get into the cracks caused by the blisters /zits.

Are you aware that you’ve quoted a 14 year old post? :stuck_out_tongue:

Hi all,

I know I’m posting a month later than other posters who were fourteen years late, but I had to join in and highlight something that killed that unbelievable sunburn itch for me.

Peppermint oil is it.

Apply the peppermint oil in a thin layer across your sunburn and prepare for twenty minutes of a minty-fresh burning sensation. You can get it at your drug store.

This itch was some of the worst pain I’ve experienced. I couldn’t even get in the car and drive to the hospital because of the searing, itching feeling that was making me writhe uncontrollably.

This thread is almost the first response on Google, so I figured I would throw in my two cents and hope burnbabyburn’s solution helps others. Thanks buddy!

I read on another forum that the itch can occur around two days after your sunburn if your body is over-producing histamines. All I know is I can be a human again, even if I smell like a giant candy cane. That was a terrible ride.

Good luck, all!