We don’t need to tell you that getting a sunburn is bad…very, very bad. Not only is looking like a tomato less than desirable, skin pealing is a nuisance, and chief of all sunburns accelerate skin aging and put you at risk for skin cancer. It’s no laughing matter. Unfortunately sometimes you do get burned. The damage is done, but is there anything you can do to mitigate the after effects? I asked dermatologist and RealSelf contributor Dr. Joel Schlessinger for his insight. Remember, sunburns really can be a matter of life and death. It only takes one really bad burn for a lifetime of damage.
Get out of the sun as soon as you see signs of skin reddening
It only takes 10 minutes of intense sun exposure for your skin to burn. At the first sign of skin reddening or tingling, seek shelter indoors right away so that you don’t prolong exposure and worsen your sunburn.
Even if you aren’t in direct sunlight, it’s always a good idea to wear a broad spectrum sunscreen and reapply your sun protection regularly. Although it may not feel like you’re getting sunburn, up to 80% of the sun’s rays can penetrate through clouds. This is why many people end up with serious sunburns after spending time outside on cloudy days without any sun protection.
Take a cool shower or bath.
Taking a cool bath or shower will help regulate an elevated body temperature, and it should work to soothe and comfort skin. Avoid using scrubs, loofahs, devices or washcloths, as these could prove irritating and painful. Instead choose a mild cleanser and use your hands to gently massage it into skin. I recommend Vanicream Cleansing Bar, which is free of sulfates, fragrance, dyes and other common irritants. Applying a cold compress to skin also helps minimize flaking and slows down the peeling process.
Apply a soothing moisturizer while skin is still damp
Never pick at flaky skin or blisters. A moisturizing gel or lotion can soothe and comfort skin and minimize the appearance of redness and peeling. Formulas that contain aloe vera, vitamin C and vitamin E may be especially nourishing. Be sure to use a lightweight, breathable product and resist over-applying. Heavier creams can act as a barrier, trapping heat in the skin and keeping it redder longer. Try LovelySkin Aloe Vera Soothing Skin Relief Gel, an antioxidant-rich treatment that helps calm inflammation, hydrate skin and minimize peeling. You can also relieve discomfort with FixMySkin Healing Body Balm with 1% Hydrocortisone. The hydrocortisone in this balm will help soothe irritation while shea butter and cocoa butter hydrate skin to prevent peeling and flaking. HELIOCARE Sun Protection Pills, an organic product that is derived from a fern in Central America that was found to protect plants under the strongest sun, can also be taken before, during or slightly after sun exposure to help minimize a burn.
Taking the recommended dose of an over-the-counter ibuprofen like Advil can have an anti-inflammatory effect on your sunburn. While Tylenol will help alleviate the pain associated with a burn, it does not have the same anti-inflammatory effect as ibuprofen. When you take ibuprofen, you aren’t just addressing symptoms like redness and swelling, you are also helping to prevent long-term skin damage. For best results, take ibuprofen within four to six hours of sunburn to prevent it from becoming worse. Continue taking ibuprofen as directed for the next 48 hours and be sure to drink lots of cold water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
Stay hydrated and seek medical care, if needed
Sunburn can draw fluid to the skin’s surface and away from other areas of the body, causing dehydration. As your skin begins to recover, be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of extra fluids, including water and sports drinks.
The amount of peeling usually indicates the severity of the burn. Severe sunburn can mean blisters and peeling skin. While most sunburns may be treated at home, even if they are accompanied by blisters, there are certain circumstances that require medical attention. If blisters cover more than 20% of the body, seek a physician’s care as soon as possible. Likewise, if you experience sunburn accompanied by fever and chills, you should see a doctor immediately.