Even though sunburns seem temporary, even one really bad burn can put you at higher risk for skin cancer later. Sunny or cloudy, your skin is exposed to some level of UV light anytime that you step foot outdoors.
Of course, you can protect yourself by using a high-quality sunscreen and avoiding overexposure, but we’ve all been a little negligent in applying our SPF. In a flash, our day at the beach turns into a miserable week of tossing and turning in pain.
Proper sunburn care can help you rest a little easier as your body heals, letting you get back outside (with proper SPF!) sooner.
Symptoms of Sunburn
We are all familiar with the redness and pain associated with a sunburn, but many people experience symptoms beyond that when exposed to excessive UV light. It hurts to shower, lay in bed, or move in general. Other symptoms include:
- Blisters that can pop and become infected
- Increased sensitivity to temperatures
Long term, these painful skin burns and the accumulation of sun damage can lead to precancerous changes and possible skin cancer.
Feeling the Burn?
The moment that you feel yourself getting a sunburn, get out of the sun. Move inside and stay out of the sun until your skin heals. It doesn’t take long for skin to burn, especially in intense heat.
Keep Your Cool
Once you’ve escaped indoors, immediately apply a cold compress. This can be anything from a bag of ice wrapped in a towel to an ice pack specifically made for injuries. Either way, this cooling of the skin will reduce the swelling and allow some of the heat that’s trapped in your skin to evaporate.
You can also opt for a cool bath or shower, but avoid soaps, scrubbers, and warm water. Use a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDS) such as aspirin or ibuprofen as directed to reduce pain and inflammation.
When you have a sunburn, your body dehydrates. When your skin is dehydrated, it makes it even more difficult to heal from the burn. Rebuilding the protective barrier and improving your skin’s ability to heal itself is critical.
Sunburns also draw water from the core of the body to the surface. This is your body’s way of trying to cool down the effected area. Drinking more water allows your body to send additional moisture to the area, cooling it sooner, and allowing it to heal faster.
Increase your water intake, and be sure to use an unscented moisturizer all over. Perfumes can irritate your burn further, making it itch and peel. A gentle, hydrating lotion with aloe is best.
Fight Free Radicals
Antioxidant serums can be used after your sunburn heals to help return it to its former glory. Sunburns lead to an abundance of free radicals, more than your body can naturally process. This causes a state called oxidative stress.
Avoiding oxidative stress is the best way to keep your skin vibrant and youthful, but antioxidants like vitamin E and L-ascorbic acid can help offset signs of aging due to sun damage.
Talk to Your Doctor
In more extreme cases, sunburns can lead to infection if open blisters are not protected. Avoid popping blisters at all costs, as the open wounds leave your skin vulnerable. If you notice that the area around a popped blister is not healing, is swelling, red, or weeping, contact your doctor right away.
Additionally, monitor any new or changing skin moles. Stay in touch with your dermatologist regarding any areas of concern, as abnormal moles are an early sign of some skin cancers.