It’s that time of year again. You may be dying to “get a little color” for the summer so you’re tempted to hold off on the sunscreen. You figure a little sun won’t hurt, but then the next thing you know you’re sunburned.
When you have sunburn, it can be very painful and damaging to your skin. It can put you at risk for skin cancer and many other negative effects.
How to Deal with Sunburn
Scott & White dermatologist Katherine Fiala, MD works with people everyday who suffer from skin problems and offers some tips to deal with sunburn.
1. Act Quickly
“If you feel the tale-tell tingling of a burn or see any sign of skin reddening on yourself or your child, get out of the sun and start treatment,” says Dr. Fiala.
She says sunburn tends to sneak up on us, so a touch of pink at the beach could turn into a big problem later.
After you’re out of the sun, consider a cool shower or bath. Then you can slather on a moisturizing cream or lotion to help soothe the skin. You can use lotion to make peeling and flaking less noticeable. For the first day or two, you may also want to use a hydrocortisone cream to help with the discomfort.
“Aloe vera provides a temporary cooling effect which helps with the discomfort,” says Dr. Fiala.
Creams are not going to be the only solution, however. Dr. Fiala also stresses the importance of following all of the tips to soothe the skin, not just applying aloe vera. When applying creams, be sure to stay away from scrubbing, picking, peeling or breaking any blisters.
“Any burn draws fluid to the skin surface and away from the rest of the body,” says Dr. Fiala. “So drink extra water, juice and sports drinks for a couple of days and watch for signs of dehydration.”
Signs of dehydration include:
- Dry mouth
- Reduced urination
4. Don’t Wait to Medicate.
If you suspect sunburn, consider taking a dose of ibuprofen right away and continue the dose for the next 48 hours.
“This cuts back on the swelling and redness that is going to occur and might prevent some long-term skin damage,” explains Dr. Fiala.
5. Assess the Damage
Most sunburn, even the ones with a few blisters, can be treated at home but there are some cases where you may need to seek medical attention.
Dr. Fiala says if a blistering burn covers 20 percent or more of the body (for example, a child’s whole back), you should seek medical attention. Anyone with sunburn who is suffering fevers and chills should also seek medical help.
6. Commit to Do Better
“Consider the burn a warning that your sun-safety net has failed and vow to do better,” says Dr. Fiala.
Here are some ideas to help avoid future burns:
- Seek the shade, especially between 10am and 4pm.
- Do not burn.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 15 minutes before going outside. Reapply every 80 minutes or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
“As a dermatologist, I hope to educate as many people as possible about the dangers of excessive sun exposure as well as the dangers of tanning bed use,” says Dr. Fiala.
Remember that early detection of skin cancers can not only save lives but also prevent large, possibly disfiguring surgeries.
About the author
I contribute content and skills as a freelance writer for Baylor Scott & White Health. I enjoy improving our connection with our readers, patients and communities by assisting with a wide range of writing projects.