Hell’s Itch (Sunburn Itch): Causes, Treatments, and Prevention

Hell's Itch

Hell’s itch or devil’s itch, as the name suggests, is a painful itching that occurs due to sun exposure. It typically appears 24 to 72 hours after the sun exposure.

Many of us may have experienced the uncomfortable and deep pain of hell’s itch. Data suggests that around 5 to 10 percent of people experience the painful itching.

If you have also experienced hell’s itch or the sunburn itch read on to find answers to all of your queries including how long does hell’s itch last and the medical term for hell’s itch.

Also Read: Red Spots on Face: Causes and Natural Treatments

What Causes Hell’s Itch?

Everyone can get sunburn and chances of getting a hell’s itch are also equal. However, every sunburn does not lead to the hell’s itch.

If you are a victim of the hell’s itch once, it isn’t evident that you will continue to be its victim. Depending on the type of your skin, the time you spend in the sun plays a major part in triggering the itch.

What are the causes of sunburn itch? And why does the sunburn itch? Physiological reason for the excruciating pain of hell’s itch lies in the nerve endings of the affected skin. The top layer of the skin contains plenty of nerve fibers.

Sunburn damages the topmost epidermal layer of the skin. This exposes the lower dermis to sense the surrounding. The skin damage activates these nerve endings, and you feel an itching sensation in the skin.

Risk Factors for Hell’s Itch or Sunburn Itch

Is hell’s itch genetically predisposed or does it have some specific causes? Although the answers to these questions are not clear, scientific studies have identified some factors which pose risks to develop hell’s itch.

One of the factors is fair skin which has less melanin pigment to prevent the skin damage from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Those with the fairer skin are more prone to sun damage than those with the darker skin.

The other factor is time spent in the sun. If your occupation prolongs your exposure to the sun, you are at high risk to get sunburn. For example, people who spend more time in mountains are more prone to get sunburn which can lead to the hell’s itch.

Symptoms of Sunburn Itch or Hell’s Itch

Symptoms of the hell’s itch go beyond the itching of typical sunburn. You may experience extreme pain or skin peeling 24 to 72 hours after the sun exposure.

Some may experience these symptoms on the shoulders or the back because these areas are more prone to get affected by sun rays. Such areas are difficult to reach out and add to your irritation. These areas may not receive enough SPF protection and so are more susceptible to hell’s itch.

One may experience deep, throbbing, uncomfortable and extreme pain of sunburn itch.

Home Remedies for Hell’s Itch or Sunburn Itch

If you are concerned about how long the hell’s itch lasts, you can speed up the healing of the itch with few home remedies.

There are various sunburn itch home remedies which you can use to get rid of the pain. These treatments will help prevent further damage to the affected skin.

1. Vinegar

Vinegar has acetic acid which assists in maintaining the pH of the skin and gives you quick relief from the sunburn itch.

You can use apple cider vinegar with water in 1:1 ratio and apply it to the affected skin using a spray or a wet cloth damped in an apple cider vinegar. Vinegar is acidic, and hence you must be wise in using it. Do not apply it if the skin has deep abrasions due to sunburn.

2. Baking Soda

You can add sodium bicarbonate or baking soda to cool bathing water. Soak in the bath for 15 to 20 minutes. Allow the body to air dry. Do not clean or dry the body using a towel. This remedy gives instant relief from the sunburn.

Also Read: 10 Health Benefits of Baking Soda Bath

3. Thyme

Thyme can be used to treat itch medically. It numbs the skin and provides relief from the pain of sunburn itch. It has anti-inflammatory and anesthetic Add two tablespoons of dried thyme to a liter of boiling water. Cool the water and strain. Apply this rinse on the affected skin using cotton balls.

4. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera contains anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties. It promotes quick healing of the sunburn. Squeeze out the fresh aloe gel from the aloe vera leaf and apply it on the affected skin.

Allow it to dry and then rinse it off. Aloe vera’s soothing and moisturizing qualities makes it effective in treating sunburn itch. You should repeat this process five to six times a day until the sunburn heals.

5. Hot Shower

It is a good remedy to treat hell’s itch. Although hot showers are discouraged in sunburn, it works effectively in extreme sunburn itching. It is believed that the heat receptor nerve fibers are activated during the bath. They send a message to the brain, and the resulted feeling suppresses the itching sensation of the skin.

How to Prevent Hell’s Itch?

To avoid being affected with hell’s itch, it is better to take precautions beforehand. People with fair skin are more susceptible to sunburn. So they should know how much sun exposure their skin can tolerate.

To prevent hell’s itch avoid prolonged sun exposures. Wear a sunscreen that contains broad spectrum SPF to protect your skin from the ultra violet radiations of the sun.


Pointer, K.; “Everything You Need to Know About Sunburn Itch (Hell’s Itch),” Healthline web site; http://www.healthline.com/health/outdoor-health/sunburn-itch-relief-hells-itch, last accessed Aug. 16, 2017

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Madhvi Bhosale, Microbiologist

Madhvi Bhosale is a microbiologist (M.Sc.) and has experience of research in the field of molecular biology of malarial parasite P.falciparum. She has contributed in the research about P. falciparum epigenome. With the background of research about microbial diseases, she aspire to write health related articles which can help the readers to be aware and stay healthy. She also writes biology educational contents and story boards. With her creative mind, she produces a clear and refined audio-visual biology concepts. The sound knowledge of microbiology enables her to contribute significantly in writing all-inclusive health articles.