Every year in June I get a big nasty, sunburn. I just can’t help myself. I like the outdoors and I like the sun. I just don’t like to sunburn, the pain and peeling afterwards. What can I do when I get sunburned?
Dermatologists, including myself, advocate having fun in the sun without the burn that sometimes goes with it. A sunburn means that your skin has sustained so much damage that the DNA has been altered resulting in inflammation. We are all human and sometimes sunburns happen. When that occurs, you will find that the skin is itchy, swollen and painful.
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When your skin is sunburned, there are a few fixes that can help alleviate the pain and embarrassment:
- Take ibuprofen 400 mg (it is available under many different names such as Advil or just generic Ibuprofen), provided you are not allergic, as soon as you feel that your skin is sunburned. You can use it every 4 to 6 hours as needed. Make sure you drink plenty of water. Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory and it will counteract the inflammation of skin (redness, tenderness and swelling) that was caused by excessive sun.
- Apply cool (not cold) compresses – this is soothing and will provide relief from some of the pain and burning.
- Drink plenty of liquids – sun exposure can also dehydrate you. In addition, green tea has been shown to decrease inflammation and can help with sunburn therapy.
- Make sure that you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables – their antioxidant properties that will help in “mopping up” free oxygen radicals that have been created because of the sunburn.
- Make sure that the skin is moisturized – during and after a sunburn, the skin is not working properly and your body is prone to lose water through the skin. It is important that we help to protect skin barrier function. Any soothing moisturizer will do, and try to avoid perfumes or irritants. Keeping your skin moist is especially important when it begins to peel – do not let it dry out. Dry skin will take longer to heal.
- Do not pull off flaking skin – it is very tempting to “help” skin exfoliate. This can cause more harm than good with more trauma and injury. Let the skin fall off naturally.
- Do not rush – it will take a few days, and sometimes a few weeks, for the skin to get back to normal. The length of time it takes to recover depends on the severity of the sunburn and how the skin is being treated afterwards. By following these recommendations, you can help optimize the recovery process.
Sunburn is a very traumatic injury to the skin. We need to take serious precautions to protect ourselves from excessive sun exposure. Fun in the sun is great and when done properly, it can bring pleasure and joy to our lives. Have fun and treat your skin well – it will thank you in the long run.
The information provided on this website is for Canadian patients only and is meant for information and education that is based on experience and research.