8 Sunburn Relief Strategies (and How To Prevent It Next Time)
Here’s how to relieve your itchy, burning skin.
Many of us have gotten a sunburn by mistake. Perhaps you didn’t plan to go outside and forgot to apply sunscreen; perhaps you didn’t reapply later in the day or just missed an area or two.
Whatever the case may be, your skin is heated, throbbing, and lobster-colored. What happens next? Dermatologist Melissa Piliang, MD, joins us to discuss sunburn recovery – and how to avoid becoming sunburned in the future.
Tips For Soothing And Relieving Sunburn
Here are a few remedies for sunburn.
1. Lower the warmth of your skin.
First and foremost: “Have out of the sun as soon as possible and get your skin cooled down,” Dr. Piliang advises. “Take a chilly bath or shower to reduce your skin temperature.”
This reduces inflammation. But keep it brief – too much time in the water dries up your skin.
If your burn just affects a small area, you can use a cold compress such as a damp towel or washcloth to relieve the pain. Place it on the burn gently until your skin feels cold to the touch.
2. Apply moisturizer
Dr. Piliang recommends using a moisturizing cream or lotion while your skin is still damp to assist lock in moisture. Apply moisturizer often in the first several days following the first burn to prevent dryness.
Just don’t moisturize your skin until it’s completely cold, or you’ll trap the heat and create even more discomfort and irritation.
3. Use an itch relief cream.
If you’re itching, apply a thin coating of 1% hydrocortisone lotion to the burnt region.
4. Relieve the discomfort
Apply soothing aloe vera gel to ease discomfort and burning from sunburn.
“Keep using those cool compresses as well,” advises Dr. Piliang. “They feel amazing and help to relieve the scorching sensation.”
If you’re in a lot of pain, don’t be afraid to take pain medication.
“You can take an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin,” Dr. Piliang suggests.
5. Avoid ointments that include irritating chemicals
Ointments and petroleum jelly, which retain heat, should be avoided.
Also, avoid topical medicines with the suffix “-caine,” such as benzocaine and lidocaine, which might induce allergic responses that aggravate your irritation.
“Avoid any products that include alcohol, which may dry up your skin and make healing more difficult,” advises Dr. Piliang.
6. Maintain proper hydration
Sunburns attract fluids from other regions of your body to your skin, dehydrating you rapidly. Hydration is beneficial for a sunburn.
“It’s critical to make sure you’re hydrated properly,” says Dr. Piliang. “Drink plenty of water. Sports drinks with electrolytes can also assist.”
7. Avoid touching blisters
Don’t touch those sunburn blisters, no matter how much you want to. You’ll end up doing more harm than good.
“Let blisters heal on their own to avoid infection and scarring,” recommends Dr. Piliang.
8. Understand when you should see your doctor
When at-home therapies fail, getting medical assistance is the best option.
“Call your doctor if you have huge blisters, are in a lot of pain, or have acquired a fever, chills, dizziness, or disorientation,” advises Dr. Piliang.
Preventing Unintentional Sunburn
Make sure to follow these precautions the next time you go outside.
Look for shade
What can you do to reduce your chances of getting a sunburn the next time you forget to wear sunscreen? “Find some shade,” Dr. Piliang advises. “That can be really beneficial.”
You may also transport your shade. She suggests having a hat in your car (and, preferably, wearing one while you’re outside in the sun).
Tightly knit cloth is ideal, as is a two to the three-inch-wide brim that covers your face, ears, and neck.
Put on protective clothes.
Consider keeping protective clothes in your car as well.
When you’re out in the sun, it’s a good idea to wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and long pants, albeit white clothing isn’t as protective as darker hues. The tighter the weave of the cloth, like with hats, the more protection you’ll obtain.
“You can also get SPF-infused clothing from big-box retailers for a reasonable price,” Dr. Piliang adds.
If you can’t afford to buy new garments, you may wash your old ones in a treatment that increases their natural UV protection factor (UPF) from UPF 5 to UPF 30. Simply add the solution to your usual washing cycle and it will last for 20 washes. It is often available at your local drugstore or online.
Every day, apply sunscreen.
This may seem obvious, yet many of us forget to apply sunscreen.
“You have to make sure you put on enough,” Dr. Piliang advises. “An ounce of sunscreen the amount in a shot glass is enough to cover your entire body.”
You can use a chemical or mineral sunscreen (also known as a physical sunscreen) that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
“Chemical sunscreens perform a chemical interaction with your skin and function like a sponge, absorbing that UV radiation so that it does not harm the skin,” Dr. Piliang adds. “Chemical sunscreens may cause greater irritation.” If you have sensitive skin, you should seek a mineral sunscreen.”
Don’t forget to reapply sunscreen during the day, which is another critical error that many of us make.
“You should reapply sunblock every 90 minutes or so,” Dr. Piliang advises. “If you’ve been in the water and you come out and towel off, you should reapply since you’ve rinsed off a lot of it when you got out.”