Let’s face it, even when we try to be hyper-vigilant about sun protection, sunburns can happen. Maybe we forget to reapply during a long day at Disneyland or a quick run to the store turned into an unexpected hour long chat in the sun. Suddenly, we have a bright red sunburn on our skin. While we cannot stress the importance of Sun Safe Practices enough (needed 365 days per year!), if you get a sunburn, let’s talk about what you should do.
*Determine the severity. Most sunburns can be treated at home, but if you have a blistering sunburn that covers 20% or more of your body, see a physician immediately. Severe sunburns can have other serious complications.
*Respond quickly. If you notice your skin getting red while you are still out in the sun, get into the shade or indoors quickly and try to limit any additional UV exposure not only to prevent further skin damage but also because severe sunburns can also lead to dizziness and headache.
*Take an OTC pain reliever such as ibuprofen to help with the inflammation. This should also reduce any soreness and redness. As with all medications, please do not take if it may conflict with any current medications. Check with your doctor if you are unsure.
*Cool down the affected skin. Apply a cool compress such as a wet towel or take a cool bath/shower to reduce inflammation.
*Moisturize & treat the skin. Keep the skin moisturized with a gentle lotion and/or aloe vera gel. Low dose OTC hydrocortisone creams can also be used to speed healing & reduce swelling.
*Drink plenty of water. All burns, including sunburns, draw a lot of moisture out of your body in order to heal the burn. Up your fluid intake (water, electrolyte drinks, juice, etc) over the next few days to prevent dehydration and other such side effects.
*Be gentle. If you get blisters, resist the urge to puncture them. If your skin starts peeling, don’t pick, but rather apply moisturizing cream.
*Avoid unnecessary UV exposure. Additional UV exposure can make the sunburn worse and/or prevent healing. We understand that not everyone can closet themselves up inside, so just be very careful, wearing clothing, hats, etc. to cover & protect the affected skin.
*Be aware of symptoms. If you feel feverish, are lightheaded or dizzy, & have chills and/or the sunburn has blisters that look infected, see a doctor immediately.
*Review Sun Safe Practices! Don’t forget that 1 blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles one’s chance of melanoma, and 5 or more (regular) sunburns at any age also doubles someone’s chance of melanoma! And those statistics don’t even take into account basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas (the two most popular types of skin cancer).
For More Information:
Skin Cancer Foundation: 5 Ways to Treat a Sunburn
Mayo Clinic: Sunburn
American Academy of Dermatology: Treating a Sunburn (YouTube video)