Got a Sunburn? Now What?

Person with sunburnt shoulders Got a Sunburn? Now What?

So you messed up and forgot the sunscreen and now you’ve got a sunburn. It’s okay, but there are some steps you can take to help stay comfortable in spite of your burn.

How to Treat Sunburn

What is a Sunburn?

A sunburn is the result of sun damage. Your skin becomes red as the body sends more blood to help repair damaged skin cells. Ultraviolet radiation in sunlight does not take long to destroy unprotected skin cells. The DNA of skin itself can be damaged by this solar radiation. One reason sunburn is difficult to prevent without the help of sunscreen is that your skin doesn’t redden immediately. The body’s response to damage is not immediate, so the visual symptoms don’t appear until it’s far too late. Sunburns are painful. Depending on how severe your burn is, it can be downright agonizing. Sunburnt skin will also feel much warmer to the touch than unaffected skin. Sunburns can take a few days to fade and their ill effects can be far reaching. In the process of reconstruction, DNA can mutate and skin cells can become cancerous. Skin cancer is an often dangerous and very common disease in the United States. While a single sunburn probably won’t cause cancer, sustained damage and exposure to UV light can lead to skin cancer later in life. Sun damage also ages skin and can cause discoloration, like sunspots and freckles.

Caring for a Sunburn

So, you’ve got a sunburn. Regardless of how extreme your burn is, there are things you can do to make it better. Let’s start with the simple solutions for less severe sunburns first. To cope with the pain and irritation of a sunburn, you can use moisturizers containing aloe vera or soy on your skin to help your skin feel cooler. If your burn is more extreme, you might be prescribed an ointment that contains hydrocortisone. While any of these products can be purchased over the counter, there are some prescription strength drugs that you can ask your dermatologist about in the event of serious pain and discomfort. Taking cold baths and showers is another quick and easy way to keep your skin feeling cool and comfortable. Pat dry rather than irritating it with more aggressive drying, and moisturize to help trap that needed moisture in your skin. Sunburns can continue to dehydrate you long after you’re out of the heat. Your skin draws more moisture from the body to help relieve sunburn, and that moisture is taken from other parts of the body that need it too. Drink a lot of water when coping with a sunburn, and make sure you pay attention to your hydration.

With more severe sunburns, blistering and excessive skin peeling is possible. Blisters following a sunburn mean that you have sustained second degree burns. Besides being very painful, blisters can cause scarring and pose an infection risk. Do not pop blisters. Open skin is far more susceptible to bacterial infections which can be harmful to your health. Scarring from sun blisters is very possible if you allow them to be popped or pierced. Protect blistered skin with bandages and avoid activities that may cause trauma on the blister.

Finally, and regardless of how severe your burn is, don’t let it happen again! That’s not only advice for the long term, but also for right after. There is a common misconception about a base tan or a burn making your skin tougher against future sun damage. Sunburned or tanned skin is not less vulnerable to sun damage. In fact, you’d have an even harder time telling whether your skin was burned or not if you have a pre-existing burn or tan. Tanning, like a sunburn, is damaged skin.

Sunburns should not be taken lightly, so make sure you aren’t just accumulating burn after burn—that’s an easy way to increase your odds of developing skin cancer. If you’ve got a sunburn or questions on how to protect yourself from them, call the skincare experts at Northeast Dermatology Associates.

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