Many of us have spent a lot more time inside this spring than we normally would have. So, it’s understandable if the combination of loosening stay-at-home restrictions and summer weather lured you into spending a little too much time in the sun recently, and now you’re trying to figure out how to get rid of that sunburn.
I’m sure you know that you should be wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher every day. And that you should be putting it on before you even head outside, and then reapplying it regularly. But, hey, there’s a lot going on right now.
A sunburn may seem fairly straightforward. Spend too much time in the sun and your skin will become red and sometimes even painful to the touch. But there’s more going on there than often meets the eye. Tanning is essentially your body’s first line of defense against UV light. The body is trying to protect itself by making melanin, the dark pigment in the outer layer of your skin, which causes your skin to darken.
But you can pass right by the tanning threshold and wind up with the redness, stinging or itching sensation, and swelling that characterize sunburns. Your skin may also feel hot and bubble into small blisters. If your sunburn’s especially intense, you could also experience a headache, fever, nausea, and fatigue.
These symptoms can show up anywhere from a couple of hours after sun overexposure to more than a day later. And it could take several days or longer for the bad ones to heal. What follows are a few things you can do in the meantime to minimize the pain and irritation.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
First things first, get out of the sun. That should be clear, but just in case it isn’t. From there, take a cool shower or, even better, a cool bath, which will allow you to fully submerge yourself. You may feel a slight chill, especially if you have a low-grade fever, but you’ll want to avoid warm and hot water because it’ll further irritate your already aggravated skin.
When you get out, gently pat yourself dry. Try to leave a little moisture on your skin. That way, when you apply your moisturizer, it will trap the water on your skin and help reduce the dryness you’d experience otherwise.
If this isn’t your first sunburn, you may have a moisturizer with aloe vera set aside for just this moment. Indeed, it can help with the irritation that accompanies a sunburn. As can a moisturizer with soy, which has been shown to trap more moisture on the skin than standard moisturizers.
And, should your skin start to peel, your best bet is to keep the areas well-moisturized.
If your skin begins to feel painful to the touch, try an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream as well. You may also want to take aspirin or ibuprofen. Your body considers a sunburn to be an injury, so it responds accordingly: with inflammation. A pain reliever will help tamp that down.
Finally, drink as much water as you can stomach. A sunburn brings fluid to the surface of your skin and away from your insides, which could leave you vulnerable to becoming dehydrated, even while drinking your normal amount.
Be especially mindful of blisters
If you develop blisters, avoid the urge to pop them. Blisters are an indication that you have a second-degree burn that’s gone past the outer layer of your skin. They’re your skin’s way of trying to heal and stave off infection.
If a blister breaks on its own, gently clean it with mild soap and water, apply some antibiotic cream, and then apply a nonstick gauze bandage.
If your skin is blistering a lot or is extremely red and painful, or if you’re still in a lot of discomfort after trying these treatments, call your dermatologist. You may need a prescription for an oral corticosteroid to help with the inflammation or antibiotics if you’ve developed an infection.