How to Treat Sunburn

Summer is all fun, cotton candy, and beaches until you fall asleep outdoors and get burned red by the sun. Sunburn is an acute reaction in the skin after overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. The painful burns cause direct damage to DNA, causing inflammation and the death of skin cells. But that’s not all.

Sunburn in childhood or adolescence can double your risk of developing melanoma skin cancer in later life. That’s among the main reasons why health experts say you should avoid it.

Summer is all fun, cotton candy, and beaches until you fall asleep outdoors and get burned red by the sun.
Summer is all fun, cotton candy, and beaches until you fall asleep outdoors and get burned red by the sun.
(Photo: Steve and Jem Copely/Wikimedia Commons)

Treating Sunburned Skin

Sometimes, however, sunburns are inevitable – especially in the summer, when people head out to spend afternoons by the pool or in the park.

If you do become sunburnt, act quickly and get out of the sun. Cover up the affected areas with loose cotton clothes that allow your skin to breathe. Stay in the shade. If need be, painkillers such as ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

Below are a few ways to safely treat sunburns.

1. Hydrate

When you get a sunburn, UV light causes inflammation in the skin similar to what you might get from a burn from the oven. This is why it’s important to hydrate and help repair the skin barrier as quickly as possible.

To remedy painful sunburns, look for a moisturizer containing aloe, which helps soothe burned skin. Hydrating from the inside-out will also help. Sunburn pulls fluids to the skin’s surface – away from the rest of the body. To compensate, drink plenty of water.

Sunburn pulls fluids to the skin's surface, way from the rest of the body. To compensate, drink plenty of water.
Sunburn pulls fluids to the skin’s surface, way from the rest of the body. To compensate, drink plenty of water.

2. Decrease the swelling.

You can also reduce inflammation from the inside-out. Popping an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pill can help lessen swelling and redness. Such medication should also help you deal with any pain.

Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pills can help lessen the swelling and redness caused by sunburns.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pills can help lessen the swelling and redness caused by sunburns.

3. Don’t pop any blisters.

If your sunburn blisters, experts say it’s important to keep any blisters from popping. Leave the blisters intact. Do not rupture or peel them. Keeping the blisters intact will not only allow the burn to heal more quickly, it will also lower your risk of infections.

If the burn is severe, see a dermatologist. Health professionals will sometimes prescribe steroid creams to hasten healing.

Leave the blisters intact.
Leave the blisters intact. (Photo: Axel V/Wikimedia Commons)

4. Fight free-radical damage.

While a burn will heal within a few days, the free-radical damage done by UV rays lasts a lifetime. The sun’s UV light promotes the production of free radicals. These harm collagen and elastin, as well as damage the DNA of your skin cells. This damage is what causes early aging and increases your risk of skin cancer, say experts.

The application of a vitamin C serum on affected areas can help. You can’t undo your exposure, but antioxidants can help minimize the harmful consequences.

The application of a vitamin C serum on affected areas can help.
The application of a vitamin C serum on affected areas can help.

Preventing Further Damage

Of course, the best treatment is prevention. While your sunburned skin is healing, it’s important to protect it from further sun exposure. Stay in the shade, wear protective clothing, and do wear adequate sunscreen.

Studies show that most people do not apply enough sunscreen to get the required sun protection factor (SPF). That’s why experts recommend using a shot glass-sized portion of at least SPF 30.  You should re-apply your sunscreen every two hours while you are out enjoying the sun.

For good measure, always keep some sunscreen handy when you head out this summer.


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