Sunburn or sun poisoning is a result of chronic sun exposure. It is common during summer but can be possible any time of the year. Its symptoms vary but include pinkness or redness, skin that is warm or hot to the touch, pain, tenderness, itching, swelling, blisters, headache, fever, nausea and fatigue. Sunburn is uncomfortable and painful that is why you must take extra precaution when going under the sun.
You can use sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going out and re-applying every 2 hours. Using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection helps prevent sunburn. If your heading for a day a the beach make sure you go prepared.
However, not everyone is diligent or has the time to slather on sunscreen. During those times when you forgot to apply sunscreen and feels or sees the onset of sunburn do not take it for granted and act quickly. Here’s what you can do.
Stay Away from the Sun
At the first sign of sunburn, get out of the sun. It can take several hours before the full damage shows but the damage has already been done and you do not want to harm your skin any further. That is why you should stay indoors until the sunburn fades.
Cool it Down
Take a cool shower or bath. It is important to cool the skin down but not for too long. Instead, take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. However, skip the soap because it will dry and irritate the skin more. Alternatively, you can add a few scoops of baking soda to your bath to help your skin retain moisture. Also, after patting yourself dry, leave a little water on your skin then apply a lotion that is both moisturizing and hydrating to help trap the water. This can help ease the dryness common to sunburn.
If you are away from home and cannot take a bath, cool the burn with cold compresses to draw out the heat. You may use ice to make ice water for a cold compress and soak a soft clean cloth in it. Wring out the cloth and gently apply to the sunburned area for 15-20 minutes. Do not apply ice directly to the sunburn and change or refresh the cloth every 2-3 hours.
Moisturize the Skin
While the skin is still damp after your bath or compress, use a gentle moisturizing and hydrating lotion to help soothe sunburned skin. Do this continuously to keep burned or peeling skin moist. Use a lotion that contains soy, ceramides, glycerin or aloe vera. Aloe vera is especially best for sunburn because it has a cooling agent, is anti-inflammatory and is considered safe. There are also creams that contain antioxidants like vitamins C and E, which can help relieve the inflammation in the skin. Using petroleum or oil-based ointments is not advisable because they can trap the heat and make the sunburn worse.
Avoid Benzocaine and Lidocaine
You can also apply a hydrocortisone cream that you can buy over the counter without a prescription in case a particular area feels uncomfortable. Patting on small amounts of up to 1 percent of hydrocortisone cream for a few days can relieve some discomfort. It can also help calm the redness and swelling. However, do not treat sunburn with “-Caine” products such as benzocaine and lidocaine for these may cause irritation to the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
Take a Pain Reliever
You may want to take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin to help reduce any swelling, redness, and discomfort. You can continue with the NSAIDs to decrease the inflammation or until the sunburn feels better.
Replenish Your Fluids
Sunburn draw fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body making you dehydrated. Severe burns cause a process called vasodilation wherein your blood vessels dilate making you lose water from the skin quickly. When this happens, it can lead to dehydration, fatigue and heat stroke. To prevent this from happening, keep drinking water and stay hydrated while your skin heals. Drinking extra water helps prevent dehydration but you can also opt for sports drinks or coconut water that can help replenish electrolytes. It is even more effective at preventing dehydration.
Allow Blisters to Heal
If your skin blisters, leave it alone and allow it to heal. Blistering skin is a result of a second-degree sunburn. It is not a good idea to pop blisters because they form to help your skin heal and protect you from infection.
Cover Skin When Outdoors
Wear clothing that covers your skin when going outdoors to protect the sunburned skin while it heals. Tightly-woven fabrics work best. This are fabrics that you cannot see any light coming through when brought up to a bright light. You can also use a hat or an umbrella when going out for added protection from the sun.
Wear Comfortable Clothing
When staying indoors out of the sun, you may wear loose, breathable and soft clothing to avoid further skin irritation.
See Your Doctor
But if all of these methods still does not soothe your sunburn, you may want to consider seeking professional medical help especially if you have these symptoms.
- Blisters covering a large portion of the body
- Sunburn accompanied with high fever, extreme pain, headache, confusion, nausea or chills
- Sunburn that doesn’t improve within a few days
See a doctor if there are signs or symptoms of an infection.
- Increasing pain and tenderness
- Increasing swelling or inflammation
- Yellow pus from an open blister
- Red streaks leading away from the open blister
Sunburn may seem like a mild and temporary condition. However, repeated sunburns can cause lasting damage to the skin, cause premature skin aging and put you at risk for skin cancer. Your skin will heal, but the damage has been done and this damage will increase the risk of getting skin cancer. Prevention is always better than cure so we must diligently protect our skin from the sun every day, all year long.