You stayed out in the sun a bit longer than you intended to, and now you’re wincing everytime your clothes move over your burned skin. While you can’t make the burn go away, you can take some easy steps to help soothe your skin and be more comfortable as your skin heals.
Sunburns cause water to be drawn to the surface of your skin from the rest of the body. This can result in dehydration. Plus, you have probably lost water by being out in the heat and sun. Make sure you are drinking extra water and some liquids with electrolytes to replenish your body’s fluids and salts.
As soon as you realize that you have a sunburn, get out of the sun and start getting your skin cooled down. If you are near a body of water, take a quick dip. Then, as you continue to experience discomfort from your sunburn, take cool baths and showers. Adding some baking soda (about 2 oz/tub) or oatmeal to a cool bath can provide some extra relief. You can also apply cool compresses to your skin. Soaking washcloths in cool water and then laying them on your irritated skin can ease some of the tenderness. Don’t put ice on your burn, as the intense cold can damage your extra-sensitive skin.
Lotions and gels soothe the skin and help protect it as it heals. Apply moisturizer to your skin right after you get out of the bath and shower while your skin is still damp. Make sure to continue to moisturize if your skin starts to peel. The lotion will help prevent further peeling and soothe your raw-feeling skin. Use lotions that are scent and dye free, labeled “for sensitive skin.” Your skin doesn’t need any extra irritants.
100% aloe vera gel or the gooey sap squeezed directly from a plant can provide a lot of comfort to your stinging skin. Don’t go for lotions that have aloe in them -- typically the amount of aloe in a lotion or cream isn’t enough to be beneficial. Not only does aloe help with the inflammation of a sunburn, it also helps moisturize the skin and reduce peeling. Keeping your aloe vera gel in the refrigerator is a great way to pack a double punch to relieve your sunburn when you apply the cooled-down gel.
If your skin is quite inflamed and painful, you should take an over-the-counter pain reliever. Medications that contain ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), aspirin or naproxen sodium (Aleve) will work to reduce pain, swelling and redness.
If your skin blisters, it means that your skin has been damaged with a second-degree burn. The blisters are there to help protect the wounded skin -- don’t pop them. Allow the blisters to take their natural course. If a blister does break before the skin underneath is healed, gently wash the area with a mild soap, apply an antibiotic cream and cover it with a non-stick bandage until the skin is less raw.
You want to minimize the amount of potential irritation to your sensitive skin. Wearing loose clothing will help your skin feel better and heal more quickly. You should also wear clothing over your sunburn so you don’t further damage your skin. Dark or brightly-colored clothing does a better job of keeping the rays off your skin than white or light colored fabric. Wear fabric that has a tight weave, and remember that wet fabric is more likely to be penetrated by the sun’s rays. You can do a quick check on the protectiveness of your clothing by holding the fabric up to the sun -- whatever sunlight you see coming through is what will also hit your skin.
You may experience itching from your sunburn, especially if your skin starts peeling. You can apply a corticosteroid cream to your sunburn for relief. Like the aloe vera gel, keep the ointment in the fridge so it feels even better as you rub it on. You may also want to take an oral antihistamine such as diphenhydramine to soothe your itchy skin.
Now that you’ve gotten a sunburn, learn from the experience. A sunburn is more than a temporary discomfort. Sunburned skin is at increased risk for developing skin cancer. It’s hard to remember the danger of sunburns because the real effects of the damage come years after the sunburn. But the statistics are sobering. Just one blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles your risk of developing melanoma later in life. Five or more sunburns in your lifetime also more than doubles your chance of having melanoma, the deadliest of the skin cancers. While it’s inconvenient to take preventative measures for sun damage, it’s worth the time and energy to protect your skin and your life.
Call Vanguard Dermatology today, located in the greater New York City area. The board-certified dermatologists at Vanguard are qualified to provide a wide-range of skin care treatments and procedures, such as skin cancer screenings, Mohs micrographic surgery and cosmetic dermatology services.