Sunburn Relief: What to Do for Sunburned Skin

Jul 17, 2015
Sunburn Relief: What to Do for Sunburned Skin
If you asked most people, they would probably have to admit to having suffered a serious sunburn at least once in their life. It’s not uncommon to also have other less serious sunburns.

If you asked most people, they would probably have to admit to having suffered a serious sunburn at least once in their life. It’s not uncommon to also have other less serious sunburns. Any time you forget to put sunscreen on the tips of your ears or your shoulders, you may see that skin turn pink for a couple of days afterward. Whether you’re experiencing an all over burn or one that just affects a small portion of your body chances are good that all you can think about is finding some kind of sunburn relief.

The best sunburn remedies are really all about prevention. If you don’t get burned in the first place, then you don’t have to worry about finding the most effective sunburn relief. However, sometimes sunburned skin happens despite our best efforts. Maybe you simply ran out of sunscreen or didn’t plan to be in the sun as long as you were. When this happens, all that matters is finding quick sunburn relief.

What Happens When You Get Burned?

Before discussing what to do for sunburned skin it’s probably helpful to understand what a sunburn is and why they are so dangerous. Essentially, sunburned skin is the result of overexposure to UV light. This overexposure can occur in as little as 10 minutes. As soon as your skin realizes that it’s under attack by UV light it begins to defend itself. The first step of this defense is redness. Blood vessels beneath the surface of the skin dilate in an attempt to bring healing, causing the skin to turn red. Moisture gets leached from the skin’s surface, leading to a feeling of tightness. Eventually the skin cells thicken and produce greater amounts of melanin in an attempt to prevent the UV rays from penetrating any deeper. This phenomenon is commonly known as tanning. There’s only so much this defense mechanism can do. If the exposure continues, the UV rays go deeper and may begin to affect a change in the skin’s DNA. This can mean the eventual development of skin cancer.

Repeated overexposure to UV rays may cause the skin to develop hyperpigmentation, where it exhibits irregular darker spots, or hypopigmentation, where the skin shows spots that are much lighter than the surrounding tissue. Many people suffering from sunburn may also see their skin begin to peel. This is another defense mechanism that’s designed to slough off cells that might become cancerous. Essentially, the body senses that these skin cells are at high risk for causing damage, and peeling is the preferred method for getting rid of those cells.

When You Need Relief…

Once you have sunburned skin, your number one concern is sunburn relief. It’s no secret why sunburn remedies are so important. Sunburns can feel hot, tight, itchy and just plain uncomfortable. In the most severe cases they may even cause blistering. If you start to see blisters, it may make sense to make an appointment with your dermatologist who can make effective recommendations for what to do for sunburned skin. If you see blisters but can’t get in to see your dermatologist immediately, be sure to leave the blisters alone. Don’t poke or pop them as this may only make the situation worse.

Cool Cool Water

Most sunburns don’t cause blisters but are nonetheless pretty uncomfortable. Fortunately, effective sunburn relief can usually be achieved with products you already have at home or can easily obtain at a grocery store or drug store. To bring immediate relief for the heat try placing a damp towel over the affected area. The cool water is a wonderful sunburn treatment that can make you feel instantly better. For larger burns or hard to reach areas submerse yourself in a bathtub of cool water. Feel free to apply a damp towel or take a cool bath several times a day.

After Bath/Shower Products

After getting out of the bath gently pat your skin to the point where it is almost dry. Quickly apply a moisturizer to help trap the water on the surface of your skin. Rather than using your typical moisturizer, consider using one that has aloe vera or soy. Either one of these substances can instantly soothe sunburned skin. To achieve the best sunburn relief from your moisturizer, avoid ingredients like petroleum, which can trap heat in your skin, and lidocaine, which can cause irritation. For a really troublesome spot that isn’t responding to the aloe vera or soy try a hydrocortisone cream. These are available over the counter and may prove to be an excellent sunburn treatment.

Other Remedies

Ibuprofen can also bring effective sunburn relief. It’s an anti-inflammatory pain reliever, which means that it helps reduce swelling and may also ease your overall discomfort. Make certain that you also increase your water intake as you heal from a sunburn. Exposure to UV rays takes the moisture right out of your skin. This means that your body takes water from other systems and directs it to the skin to make up for the deficit. That’s why sunburned skin and dehydration often go hand-in-hand. Drink at least eight glasses of water a day, and you might want to consider drinking even more as you recover from a sunburn. Avoid sodas and other caffeinated beverages that act as diuretics and may only make you more dehydrated.

When to Seek Medical Attention

A really severe sunburn can lead to a fever and chills. If you are feeling sick– headache, nausea, extreme pain, fainting or dizziness, nausea or vomiting– seek medical attention immediately as stronger sunburn remedies may be necessary and sun poisoning might be a possibility.

Sunburn Recovery and After-Care

As your immediate sunburn relief measures begin to take effect it’s important to remember that your skin will need several days to recover. Avoiding sunburn as you heal is a vital part of the process. Be more vigilant about using sunscreen, and wear long sleeves and pants to protect delicate skin. Wear a wide brimmed hat if you’re going to be outdoors. If at all possible, try not to be outside when the sun is at its strongest, typically between 10 am and two in the afternoon.

Avoiding sunburn is the best method for preventing skin cancer. Keep in mind that a child that suffers just one severe sunburn is twice as likely to develop melanoma later in life. Accordingly, it’s essential to protect your children and yourself from the damaging effects of overexposure to UV light. Contact your dermatologist to learn more about sunburn relief and extra techniques for avoiding sunburn in the first place.