No one enjoys getting a sunburn. And most people take measures to avoid sun damage. But sometimes we’re not as careful as we should be, and we’re left with raw, sensitive, and even peeling skin. There are some things you can do to help ease the pain of sun damaged skin. Read on to find out how to calm and treat your burns.
A sunburn is caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, either from the sun or from artificial light, like from a tanning bed. Your skin has melanin in it, which is its natural pigmentation. If your skin is exposed to too much sun, your body starts producing more melanin than it normally does, causing the skin to darken (which results in a tan). However, if your skin can’t produce enough melanin to protect your skin, your skin burns.
Sunburns typically involve the skin turning pink or red, pain or tenderness, itching, swelling and skin that feels warm to the touch. If the burn is more serious, fluid-filled blisters may form. There may also be further symptoms, like a fever, fatigue, nausea and headache. You may also experience the top layer of your skin peeling from the burned area, which is part of your skin healing itself. The new skin underneath may be discolored, but will usually eventually return to its usual color.
As soon as you notice skin damage from overexposure to the sun, start taking action to soothe your skin and take care of your body. When you have a sunburn, the burn draws water to the surface of your skin, which can then dehydrate you. So, it’s important to drink extra fluids. You will also want to relieve the pain of your burn. You can take aspirin or ibuprofen to help with the discomfort and swelling. Applying a moisturizer or gel with aloe or soy can also help to ease the pain, as can calamine lotion and a 1% cortisone cream. Stay away from using petroleum jelly or oil-based ointments -- these can trap your body’s heat and make the sunburn more uncomfortable. Continue using moisturizer if your skin peels, and don’t pick at peeling skin. Try taking cool showers or baths as a sun damaged skin treatment. After bathing, pat your skin dry, leaving a little moisture on your skin. Then apply a moisturizer to your damp skin. You can also cool down your skin by applying cool compresses, such as a washcloth or flannel soaked in cool water.
If your skin has blistered, you have a second degree sunburn and need to be especially careful to help your skin heal. First, don’t pop the blisters. The burned skin is protected under the blisters, and breaking the blisters leaves your raw skin exposed and less able to heal well. If a blister does break, clean it gently, apply an antibiotic ointment and cover the area with a non-stick bandage.
If you have severe sunburn, you should seek the help of a doctor. Signs of sun poisoning include nausea, vomiting, fever, rapid pulse. Blisters that cover a large percentage of your body is also cause to see a doctor, as are the signs that your blisters are infected (swelling, pus, increased tenderness). A doctor can prescribe a corticosteroid to help with the swelling, make sure you aren’t dehydrated, and prescribe antibiotics for infections.
Make sure to keep your burn well-covered if you are going to continue to be in the sun. Staying in the shade is your best option, but if you have to be in the sun, make sure your skin is covered with densely woven fabric that won’t let UV rays penetrate to your skin. You can test this out by holding the fabric up to the sun. If you can see light through it, UV rays are still penetrating the fabric. Stay out of the sun when it is the strongest, from about 10-2. And don’t forget to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least 30 SPF, wear a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection.
Remember that while a sunburn will eventually go away, the damage to your skin is permanent. The effects of sun damage may not show up until decades later, but can range from undesirable to dangerous. Sun damage results in premature aging of the skin (wrinkles, leathery texture, dark sunspots) and skin cancer. Your chance of developing melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) doubles with a history of 5 or more sunburns.
Call Vanguard Dermatology today. Located in the greater New York City area, Vanguard offers the care and expertise of a team of board-certified dermatologists. Whether wanting to learn more about how to protect your skin from sun damage or wanting to know how to treat skin that is showing the effects of sun damage, Vanguard can provide the help you need.