My life was almost cut short by a terminal case of surburn itch this afternoon. In my desperate state I couldn't find a good source on the internet regarding how to stop sunburn itch. Because of this (and its remote connection to the medical nature of this blog) I decided to describe my own experience and create a "comment forum" on how to possibly remedy the condition.
Before I continue, let me clarify something: this is regarding the pain-from-getting-burned-just-stopped sunburn itch, not the my-skin-is-peeling sunburn itch.
Here is the backstory:
After spending some time near the equator, I developed a whopper of a sunburn. For a few days I had some difficulty sleeping secondary to the pain the I experienced any time that I moved. Lathering up my back with aloe and other mosturizers, by Sunburn Day 3 the pain was starting to abate and I figured that I was just about out of the wood. Then the unthinkable happened.
I was minding my own business (standing on the street corner when these two guys started to make trouble...wait that's another story), sitting by the computer when out of the blue my back starts to itch.
So naturally I reach around and scratch it. And would you believe it, that didn't seem to help. I keep scraching, but I'm quickly realizing that I need something bigger as I can't scratch my entire back at once, so I run into the bathroom and start frantically grinding my back up against one of the towels that we had hanging up. All this seemed to do was create a kind of itch/pain wherever I last scratched.
This seemed to help for a few minutes, but I was quickly leaving the this-is-mildly-annoying part and entering the I'm-at-risk-for-losing-my-mind phase.
I then tried laying face up in bed and moving up and down, but of course that didn't work. Then I tried arching my back as much as possible (is that decorticate or cerebrate?) as if I was going to do a backwards cartwheel, then curling up into the fetal position--zero help whatsoever.
All the while the itchiness was coming in ever greater waves. My heart was racing and my entire body began to pulsate with each heartbeat. You may think I am exaggerating, but until you have suffered through a good case of sunburn itch, you'll never understand. There were times where I actually considered going into the emergency room, I was that concerned that something serious might be going on.
So here was the one thing that helped: put about an inch of aloe vera gel on your back. I'm assuming it is your back that got burned because, unless your a nudist, chances are you went to the beach with skin white enough to make the Amish proud and decided to spend most of the day face down. Here's the important part: lie completely still, facedown on the bed. I'm sure that after a lot of itching you will be having some involuntary back spasms with how bad the pain is, but the only way to feel better is to keep from moving the burned part.
At first, putting gel on your back is only going to make the itching worse, and you'll still have some lingering itchiness, but it will pale in comparison to how miserable you were beforehand.
Addendum: My wife couldn't believe that I was in as much agony as I was letting on--feel free to point to the comments section of this post when your friend/parent/significant doesn't believe you. Also, feel free to leave comments in the forum if you would prefer. Thanks to everyone who has posted their own stories in the comments section, they always bring a smile to my face.
If you have a second, please click on a link. Every little bit counts when you have 200k in student loans.
Update: was interviewed by the National Post regarding my experience, it would seem that sunburn itch is still very rarely described and somewhat poorly understood now 5 years after this original post. You can find the whole story here.