Summer’s around the corner, and lots of us are already planning our beach days, pool parties, hiking trips, and other weekend activities to soak up the sun. But if you’re not careful, and you soak up too much sun, you may end up with a nasty sunburn.
Why Sunburns Happen
Sunburns occur when UV rays attack skin cells, causing them to mutate and die, so our blood vessels expand to send immune cells to heal the dead skin. Sunburns can be prevented with proper sunscreen application and protective clothing, but nobody is completely immune to UV damage.
So what’s to be done when you’re tomato red and wincing at the slightest touch to your skin? Sunburns will fade and flake after about a week, but there are some home remedies you can employ to make the skin healing process smoother and faster.
While there’s no immediate cure for a sunburn, there are some steps you can take to calm your skin. Sunburn treatment options include:
- - Drink lots of water - When your body is healing from a sunburn, it sends water to the surface of the skin, and away from the rest of the body, so be sure to replenish your hydration levels with plenty of water.
- Moisturize - To add to that, your skin will also need lots of hydration, so be sure to use a non-comedogenic moisturizer 1-2 times a day.
- Take a bath in cool water with an added cup of oatmeal and a few tablespoons of baking soda - Oatmeal has anti-inflammatory properties that’ll help soothe the burn, and baking soda has antimicrobial properties to help prevent infection.
- Apply brewed and cooled chamomile tea with washcloth (like a cold compress) to the affected area
- Apply Aloe Vera gel - Aloe vera is the main ingredient in most after-sun or sunburn care products due to the soothing, refreshing feeling. However, if you are sensitive or allergic to botanicals, skip this one and opt for something else like emu oil.
- Apply emu oil to the affected area - Emu oil is a fatty oil from the Australian emu bird that has been used in holistic medical settings for centuries. It contains essential fatty acids that promote skin cell regeneration, help soothe sunburned skin, reduce redness of the skin, and has other anti-inflammatory properties.
- Apply shea butter or moisturizers that contain shea butter. Shea butter has antioxidants that fight free radical damage to speed up healing time.
- Use products for sensitive skin, so as not to cause more irritation - The last thing you want while you are healing a sunburn is an allergic reaction or a skin flare up. In order to avoid irritating the skin, use gentle, fragrance free skin care products.
- Wear loose clothing - Wearing restrictive, tight clothing will not only rub against your burn and cause pain, but it can also interfere with your circulation and limit the blood flow to the surface of your skin. Wear loose, lightweight, long sleeve clothing so that your burn is protected from the sun, but your body can still circulate nutrients to the sun damaged skin, and build new, healthy cells.
- Take Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain - Over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, Advil, etc can be ingested to help relieve pain, swelling, and redness.
In general, be cautious with home remedies so that you do not accidentally come into contact with something that you are allergic to or sensitive to. If you are unsure if one of these remedies or products will work for you, try a self patch test before applying it all over.
Things to avoid when you have a sunburn
- More sun exposure - The last thing your skin wants while healing from UV damage is even more UV damage. Stay inside or in the shade until your sunburn is fully healed.
- Chlorinated water - Chlorine can further dry out the skin which will worsen the irritation sustained from your sunburn.
- Avoid direct ice application to affected areas. It may feel good at first, but it can cause a cold burn. Then you’ll be dealing with two different burns at the same time. Ouch!
- Popping blisters - Harsher sunburns may start to blister, but avoid popping these blisters at all costs. This can lead to infection.
- Petroleum jelly - Applying petroleum jelly to a sunburn can trap heat and clog pores which may lead to infections. The blisters should go away on their own after a while, but if they do not, or they get worse over time, see your doctor or a board certified dermatologist.
- Lotions or ointments that contain benzocaine or lidocaine. These ingredients help numb and relieve pain, but can be irritating and aggravating to sunburned skin.
- Stay away from harsh exfoliants and regenerative skin care products - Ingredients like AHA, BHA, glycolic acid, retinoids, and salicylic acid can expose the damaged layer of skin and further irritate the skin.
How to prevent sunburns
If you use the tips above, your sunburn should be cleared up in no time, but your job’s not done quite yet. It’s crucial to continue to protect your skin from future sunburns. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, even just one blistering sunburn can more than double your risk of developing skin cancer later in life, so you can imagine how damaging any subsequent sunburns are.
In order to prevent sunburns, use these tips:
- Stay in the shade - Especially during the hours of 10am-4pm when UV rays are typically the strongest, avoid direct sun exposure as much as possible.
- Wear protective clothing - When you do need to step into the sun, cover up as much skin as possible with long sleeves, UV protective clothing, sun hats, and sunglasses.
- Sunscreen - Any uncovered skin (and even skin covered with lightweight, non-UV protective fabrics) needs thorough sunscreen application. Thirty minutes before sun exposure, apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and reapply every 2 hours or after swimming.