How to Treat a Sunburn

How to Treat a Sunburn Jun 22, 2021 / by Complete Family Dermatology Team

Sunburns go far beyond redness and peeling. The matter of the fact is, sunburns leave lasting damage to your skin. Once the sunburn fades, you might not notice any visual effects immediately, but it can cause premature skin aging and skin cancer over time. In this blog, we’ll be focusing on what a sunburn is, how to treat a sunburn, and how to prevent a sunburn.  

What is a Sunburn?

We’ve all probably experienced at least one sunburn in our lifetime… some worse than others. But, how and why do sunburns happen? A sunburn happens when there is too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from either the sun or tanning beds. Burning is an inflammatory reaction as the UV rays damage the outer layers of your skin. The melanin in your skin works to protect and defend your skin from the UV rays by darkening your skin as you’re exposed. Some people genetically have more melanin, so they tan in the sun; whereas, others genetically have less, so they burn. However, whether you tan or burn, they both are signs of damage to your skin. Those that have less melanin will develop red, painful, hot-to-the-touch skin when they get a sunburn. After the initial sunburn, your skin may blister and peel.  

How to Treat a Sunburn

So… after you get sunburned what are you supposed to do? Here are some dermatology tips to follow to help relieve the discomfort.
  • Hop in the Water - If you’re at the pool, beach, or lake, take a quick swim (emphasis on quick) to cool down. Once out of the water, seek shade and cover-up. A cold compress can help reduce the burning sensation and discomfort. If you’re at home take a quick, cool shower or bath. Don’t use any hard soaps, so you can avoid irritating the skin even more.
  • Apply a Moisturizer - When you get out of the water, gently pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Once mostly dry, grab a moisturizer and apply it to the damaged areas. Stick to aloe vera or soy-based products (not petroleum or oil-based products). You can continue putting on moisturizer to keep the skin moist over the next few days. Adding the moisturizer on dampened skin helps lock the moisture in, which helps reduce dryness. 
  • Take Anti-Inflammatory Medication - To reduce swelling, redness, or discomfort, consider taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen (if safe to do so). Generally, taking these types of medications at the onset of the sunburn helps reduce inflammation. 
  • Stay Hydrated - Drinking plenty of water while sunburned is important because you’re likely dehydrated as well. You’ll want to replenish your fluids, so your skin and body are well hydrated and are able to rejuvenate themselves. 
  • Allow Your Skin to Heal - If your skin blisters or peels, allow it to do so and heal on its own time. Don’t try to pop the blisters or peel the skin yourself. Popping blisters can lead to unwanted infections. 
  • Protect Your Skin - Being sunburned is uncomfortable. Wear breathable, loose-fitting clothing that covers your skin when you’re outside. If you hold your clothing up to a light and can see the light shining through, then it’s probably not going to protect you. Overall, it’s best to avoid any sun exposure to lessen the risk of more skin damage. 

How to Prevent a Sunburn

While a sunburn is bad news, the good news is that a sunburn can be prevented. If you’ve gotten a sunburn before, learn from your mistakes and practice sun safety! Practice these tips every day, not just on the beach days.
  • Avoid the sun during its peak hours — 10 am - 4pm
  • Wear broad-spectrum, water-resistant, SPF 30 sunscreen
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours (or more if swimming or sweating)
  • Cover up with protective clothing
  • Avoid sun tanning or tanning beds
  • Beware of sun-sensitive medications 

Closing Thoughts

While a sunburn seems like it’s only temporary, it can cause long-lasting damage to your skin, such as premature aging and skin cancer. At Complete Family Dermatology, our dermatologists are here to help prevent, treat, and educate you about sunburns and their risk factors. If you have questions about your sunburn, or its lasting effects, please don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with us in Lincoln, NE. Call us at 402-423-1111.

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