How to get rid of sunburns and how to prevent them
Whether you have been stranded on a deserted island, forgot to reapply sunscreen on your day at the beach, or simply didn't know you could get sunburned even when it's cloudy out, the best thing to do is act fast to prevent long-term sun damage. There's no better time than now to learn how to treat and prevent future sunburns.
Types of sunburns
There are three types of sunburn:
- First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of skin (the epidermis). These burns usually heal after a few days without treatment. The damaged skin becomes red, tender, and warm to touch, but there is usually no blistering or peeling.
- Second-degree burns affect both the epidermis and part of the next layer of skin (the dermis). Painful blisters develop that may break open and weep fluid before they form a scab. The surrounding skin will be red, swollen, and tender. These burns usually heal within two weeks but may take longer if they're severe.
- Third-degree burns affect the deepest layers of skin (the epidermis and dermis). Burns are often painless because nerve endings in the skin have been destroyed. The damaged skin appears white or charred and can be leathery in texture. The burn area may also be numb because underlying nerves have been destroyed.
Effects of sunburns on your skin
Chances are, you've been sunburned before. Maybe you got a little too much sun on the beach. Or maybe you forgot to reapply sunscreen while playing outside with your kids.
Regardless of how it happened, here's what you can expect when your skin has a sunburn:
- Pain. Sunburns often hurt for a few hours and then subside, but in severe cases, they can hurt for several days. You may feel pain even before redness appears on your skin.
- Redness (erythema). This is the first sign of a sunburn, and it usually appears within two hours of exposure.
- Inflammation (swelling). Your skin may swell as the result of exposure to ultraviolet light (UV rays).
- Blistering. Red, painful blisters may appear one or two days after the burn occurs. The blisters may break, causing bleeding and oozing of fluid. Blistering is common in people with fair skin and those who get severe sunburns.
- Peeling skin. After the blistering subsides, your skin will start to peel as it heals itself
How to get rid of sunburns
To limit the effects of a sunburn, take these steps:
Gently apply cooling lotion
Most moisturizing lotions can be safely applied to sunburned skin. To avoid further damage, it’s best to use a creamy or oil-based moisturizer rather than something that is water-based.
Always apply lotion to dry skin for maximum results. Pay special attention to dry areas like your elbows, knees, and heels.
To prevent further damage from occurring, apply moisturizer before going out into the sun. If you are too late and have already been burned, apply after bathing or showering, or before bedtime each night until your skin has fully healed.
Drink lots of water
In addition to eating the right foods, it’s important to keep your water intake up. At a minimum, you should aim to drink half an ounce of water for every pound you weigh each day. This can be hard to imagine or keep track of if you don’t have a scale handy—but as a rule of thumb, most people need at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day.
If you’re already dehydrated, symptoms like dry mouth, excessive thirst, headaches, and fatigue are signals that it’s time to drink more water. If your pee is pale yellow or clear rather than dark yellow or orange in color, this means that you are well-hydrated—but if it's dark yellow or orangeish in color, this is a sign that you need more water.
You may require even more water if your sunburn has caused blistering and peeling on your skin—and make sure to drink even more if you experience any signs of dehydration after spending time under the sun. Staying hydrated will help with digestion and absorption of food nutrients (a key part of the recovery process), help relieve symptoms associated with sun poisoning like lightheadedness and headaches from dehydration, and make sure that your body can heal itself effectively by flushing out toxins through sweat and urine.
Cool yourself down
First things first: don't use ice. It can cause a second-degree burn from frostbite, and even if that doesn’t happen, it is unpleasant to put ice directly on your sunburn. Instead, take a cool bath or shower for quick relief of your sunburn symptoms. You could also make some DIY cold compresses by putting a clean washcloth in the fridge for a few minutes, then applying it to the affected area(s). If you want to go the medicine cabinet route, take an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen (brand names include Advil and Motrin) as directed. This can help with pain and swelling as well as redness and warmth associated with sunburns.
Take a cool shower or bath
A cool shower or bath will ease the pain of your sunburn and help reduce swelling. Be sure to use gentle soaps, like Dove Sensitive Skin Body Wash. Don’t scrub your skin with a washcloth, which might irritate the skin even more. Also stay out of the bathtub for too long, as that can dry out your skin and make you feel worse.
Tip: Always keep your showers on the shorter side,
and use warm — NOT hot — water when washing off your sunscreen (a common mistake).
Don't go out in the sun again until your burns have healed!
If you don't want that sunburn to turn into a second-degree burn, you shouldn't go out in the sun again until your burns have healed!
Wear sunscreen and reapply often
According to the CDC, you can protect yourself from getting a sunburn by doing the following things. First, apply sunscreen with SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30 every day. Apply it before you go out in the sun, and reapply every 2 hours. Second, wear clothing that covers your skin. Third, wear sunglasses and a hat. Fourth, stay in the shade when you can.
Note: Don't use sunscreen on babies under 6 months old--it's better to keep them out of the sun altogether.
In summary, it's important to protect yourself when you're out in the sun. If you do find yourself with a sunburn, there are treatments to help with the effects. Keep your skin protected in the future and make sure not to go back into the sun until the burn has healed.