Treating Sunburn

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Treating Sunburn | BH Skin
Did your forget your sunscreen?

Prevention of sunburn is critical to reduce cumulative damage from the summer sun, but sometimes we find ourselves unexpectedly without sunscreen. We recommend use of at least SPF 30 sunscreen protection against both UVA and UVB rays. You should apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before you plan to be outside and be certain to reapply your sunscreen every couple of hours when you’re out of doors. Don’t forget that the UV rays penetrate even cloudy skies, so you should always use sunscreen. Protective clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat, can be useful. Don’t forget sunglasses to block the UV rays- sun exposure can result in cataracts.

Unfortunately, we all fall short from time to time. The results of baking in the hot sun can be unsightly and uncomfortable! The CDC reports that over a third of American adults been sunburned over the past year.


Sunburn is inevitable if you expose your skin to the sun for any period of time. The redness and irritation are evident, but there’s also invisible damage from ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light can damage the DNA in your skin, which can result in premature aging and even cancer. Skin cancer, particularly melanoma, can be a deadly disease.

Sunburn damage varies

Depending upon skin type, intensity of the sun, and length of exposure, the damage caused by the sun’s harsh rays will vary. The sun’s rays are more direct between 10 am and 2 pm. If you live near the equator, the sun’s rays will also be more intense. Redness and irritation are common, but severe sunburn can cause swelling and blisters. This can even result in systemic symptoms, like fever, chills, headache, and nausea. Eventually, your skin will slough and peel off the damaged cells.

Relief from sunburn

Short-term relief for sunburn is intended to relieve the pain and redness. There are a few things you can do to minimize your discomfort, including the use of cold compresses and cool baths to sooth burning and itching skin. If your skin is extremely irritated and inflamed, you can use a topical steroid lotion, containing 1% hydrocortisone. Some common lotions and ointments sold over the counter include Cortaid and Cortizone-10.

Witch hazel is an astringent that has anti-inflammatory properties and can be helpful when applied with a cotton ball to areas of sun damage. Domeboro’s powder contains aluminum acetate, which can relieve itching – use as directed. You can find it at your pharmacy. There are also over-the-counter anesthetic creams and sprays that contain ingredients like lidocaine or benzocaine, which numb your skin and can be used to reduce the discomfort associated with a mild sunburn.

Moisture loss

Sunburn causes moisture loss from damage to the skin’s natural barrier, so don’t compound the problem by using soapy water or bubble bath, which can further dry your skin. Creams or gels with camphor, menthol, and aloe can relieve the sting, particularly if your refrigerate the cream before using. Since sunburn results in inflammation as the body tries to heal, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can help relieve both the swelling and pain. If you’ve been out in the sun too long, you may be dehydrated. Be certain to drink a lot of water! Above all, avoid the sun and don’t forget your sunscreen on your next outing.

Some natural remedies

There are a variety of natural remedies to soothe the irritation and redness associated with sunburn. An oatmeal compress is made by wrapping dry oatmeal in gauze and running water through. After discarding the oatmeal, soak the gauze in the liquid and apply every 2 hours. Vinegar mixed with cool water is another astringent that relieves pain from sunburn. Cornstarch can be mixed with water to make a soothing paste to apply to your skin. Some people swear by yogurt – just apply natural yogurt to the sunburned areas, let it sit for a few minutes and then rinse in a cool shower. Soaking in a lukewarm bath that is mixed with a good helping of baking soda will also be soothing, particularly if you leave the solution on your skin. If you’ve burned your eyelids, the tannic acid in tea can relieve swelling and pain. Soak tea bags in cool water and apply to your closed eyes.

Watch out for infection!

When you damage the skin barrier, you are vulnerable to infection by many bacteria in the environment. If you develop any signs of infection, like pus or unrelenting pain, you should really see a dermatologist. If your redness spreads, that’s probably due to infection, so be certain to see a doctor. You can guard against an infection by using an antibacterial ointment like Neosporin, although these can sometimes result in allergic reaction.

Some sunburn needs professional attention

Call your doctor if you develop a fever of 101 degrees or higher or if you have severe pain. Chills and blisters signal a deeper burn than a mild sunburn. Blisters protect your healing skin, so don’t pop them. A cold compress will often absorb extra fluid and leave the protective skin layer on a blister, allowing your skin to heal.

If your skin blisters over more than 2% of your body, you should seek a professional consultation – like other types of burns, severe sunburn destroys the skin’s natural barrier to infection.

Damaged skin can results in a lot of fluid loss, so if you notice a dry mouth, decreased urination, fatigue, or dizziness, you may be dehydrated.

Reverse the damage caused by ultraviolet light rays

If you’ve had a severe sunburn, it can take 6 months for your skin to return to baseline, and even then, you’ll have damage you can’t see. Next week, I’ll talk about promising treatments to remediate sun damage after your sunburn has healed. There are a variety of skin rejuvenation therapies available to turn back the clock on aging skin resulting from sun exposure.

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