In an ideal world, everyone would read their sunscreen bottle’s ingredients list and follow the FDA’s sun-safety guidelines to the letter. But sometimes even the most sensible and adamant sunscreen applier among us can get caught in broad daylight with nary a drop of sun protection in hand. So how do you treat and relieve sunburn if and when you do get it? See our best pieces of advice below.
1. TAKE COVER
The first telltale signs of sunburn usually appear in the form of pink or red skin that feels hot and tender to the touch. Do not wait until the pain gets intolerable. Get out of the sun right away before it gets worse.
2. REACH FOR PAIN MEDS
Over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen can help ease the pain and reduce inflammation and swelling. Acetaminophen like Tylenol can also help with the pain, but it won’t help with the swelling. If you’re treating a child, always ask your doctor first before any medication is given.
3. SOAK IN COOL WATER
Another way to relieve the discomfort is to take a cool bath. This also reduces the temperature of the skin. Once in the shower, avoid using fragrant soaps or anything that contains harsh chemicals or alcohol that can further irritate or dry your skin. When you’re done, simply pat yourself dry with a soft towel. Applying a cold compress on the affected area can also do wonders.
4. APPLY TOPICAL ANTI-INFLAMMATORIES
Treat the affected area with topical anti-inflammatories like cortisone cream or an after-sun lotion that contains soothing and healing ingredients like aloe vera, calendula, chamomile and lavender. Slather on a thick layer and reapply as often as needed. For immediate relief, you can also rummage through your kitchen for quick, at-home remedies like chilled cucumber or potato slices or wet tea bags.
5. DRINK PLENTY OF WATER
A sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body, so don’t forget to keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Also watch out for signs of dehydration like dry lips, reduced urination, headache, nausea and sleepiness.
6. LOAD UP ON GENTLE MOISTURIZERS AND ANTIOXIDANTS
Unfortunately, there is little you can do to stop the skin from peeling—it’s part of the healing cycle. To help ease the itchiness associated with it, keep your skin moisturized by applying mild, unscented lotion as frequently as necessary. If possible, choose a thick moisturizer that’s packed with antioxidants to thwart further damage.
7. KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR BLISTERS
Sunburn blistering usually signals second-degree burn—do not touch them! Small, unbroken blisters usually heal on their own in a couple of days. Leave them alone until they heal completely, and don’t be tempted to break them even with a sterilized needle. Once they burst, keep the flap of skin intact to protect the tender skin underneath. If you must touch the blisters (when applying lotion or topical anti-inflammatories), make sure that your hands are clean. If it becomes uncomfortable under clothing, cover it with loose, sterile gauze and secure it with medical tape. If you suspect an infection, notice a change of color and smell, or develop a fever, see your doctor immediately.
KEEP SUNBURNS AT BAY
Of course, the ultimate key to dealing with sunburn is to not get one in the first place. Always wear broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 all year round and reapply every two hours, especially if you know your skin will be exposed during the sun’s peak hours (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). Remember, having had one or more severe, blistering sunburns increases your risk of developing skin cancer in the future, so never take sunburns lightly!
READERS—Have you had a bad case of sunburn before? What did you do to deal with it? Tell us all about it in the comments section below.