The sun can be extremely beneficial to us in many ways. It improves our mood and does so many things for our body, like alleviating arthritis pains and strengthening our bones by facilitating the release of vitamin D. But as with everything, excessive sun exposure can be harmful.
As we all know, spending too much time out in the sun can give us nasty sunburns. Some do it intentionally to get a natural tan, but the healing period can be painful and uncomfortable. Fortunately, there are many ways you can relieve the discomfort until your skin finally heals.
What Causes Sunburn?
The sun obviously causes sunburn, but what is it about the sun that actually damages our skin? More importantly, how does it do it?
Sunburns are caused by overexposure to one type of ultraviolet (UV) light, which is ultraviolet B (UVB). The other type of UV radiation is ultraviolet A (UVA), which penetrates deeper into the skin and causes skin aging. Alas, bare and prolonged sun overexposure not only puts your skin at risk of getting burnt but also produces fine lines and wrinkles that could lead to loss of skin volume and elasticity.
In some cases, sunburns can even be accompanied by rashes and skin allergies that could take longer or require medical treatment to heal. More severe cases (sun poisoning) could lead to severe skin burning and blistering, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, infection, shock, and even skin cancer or melanoma.
When your skin is exposed to too much UV radiation (from the sun or tanning beds), the radiation can damage the DNA in your skin cells and cause abnormal cell growth that could lead to skin cancer.
Thanks to sunscreens and sunblocks, as well as outdoor clothing designed with ultraviolet protection (UPF), we don’t necessarily have to avoid the sun like vampires, but even those who are very committed to wearing sunblock can have slip-ups. Unfortunately for some, their skin type can make them more prone to getting sunburned. This is particularly true for fair-skinned people, especially when hanging out under the midday sun.
If you got burnt recently, the best thing you can do is to provide the best and safest treatment for your sunburn now and ensure that you protect yourself better next time.
Tips on How to Relieve Sunburn
Avoid further UV exposure
It’s best to avoid further sun exposure in order to minimize your skin damage. Remember, hiding under an umbrella at the beach is not enough as UV rays can bounce off surfaces like water, sand, grass, pavements, or even snow. In fact, solar radiation can get through clouds, so it’s not just direct sunlight that you should be avoiding.
Treat your burns immediately
Burnt skin is damaged skin, and immediate treatment helps it heal faster and more efficiently. As soon as you realize you’re sunburned, look for anything that can help cool burnt areas of your skin. A wet cloth, cold compress, plain ice, or even a cold shower will help the skin heal faster as this reduces blood flow to the affected area. Cooling your burns also means your capillaries won’t be as dilated, resulting in less pain and swelling.
Choose the right sunburn treatments
Sunburn treatments will vary depending on the extent of your sunburn. In case of dry, itching skin with no discoloration, a non-drying or non-irritating moisturizer will do after the cold compress. In the case of pinkish or reddish skin that’s warm to the touch, regular moisturization and cooling treatments will help reduce the drying and discomfort until it heals.
As for raw, blistered skin, it’s important to remember not to pick or pop the blisters to avoid infections. Protect it with gauze, if needed, and from sun exposure while it heals. You can add sun protection by wearing sunscreen as soon as the blisters are gone.
Know when to go to the doctor
Seek medical treatment when your burn causes severe blistering over a significant portion of your body. The same goes for when the burn is accompanied by fever, chills, nausea, or confusion, as these can indicate sun poisoning. Red streaks or pus on the burnt area also warrants medical care as they could be signs of an infection. Finally, young children with severe sunburn should also be given immediate medical care.
Turn to home remedies
There are several home remedies for sunburn that have been proven over time to be effective in soothing and promoting the healing of sunburns. We’ve listed the most popular ones below:
Aloe Vera Gel/Lotion
Aloe vera is a traditional sunburn remedy that not only helps moisturize but also has wound-healing effects. You can use any gel or lotion that has this ingredient, but try to look for those that are not mixed with numbing agents, fragrances, or alcohol so as to minimize chances of skin irritation. For an added cooling effect, mix them with your ice cubes and rub away!
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is well-known for its many important health benefits. Although other vinegar types promote acidic conditions, diluted ACV can help restore your skin’s natural pH balance, moisturize it, and keep irritants out to speed up the healing process. You can simply add it to your cool compress or bath.
Colloidal oatmeal, which is commonly used on chicken pox, poison ivy rashes, and eczema, can be used to stop the itchiness, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Lavender essential oil is one of the best home remedies for calming down the pain that you feel from your sunburn. Chamomile essential oil is a well-known antiseptic and natural analgesic that also has anti-inflammatory properties.
Simply apply a few drops to your bath water or cold compress to reap their benefits. Cooled down chamomile tea can also be used to wash your burnt skin.
Like ACV, baking soda can restore the pH balance in your skin and reduce the acidic conditions created by the burn. It’s also a good antiseptic that can reduce the swelling and tingling sensations while cooling and moisturizing the area.
You can apply it as a topical paste (mix it with water) directly on your burn, mix it with your bath water (not longer than 30 minutes or once a day), or mix it with salt to directly treat blisters (salt disinfects and absorbs the liquid inside the blister while baking soda helps alleviate pain).
Vitamin E oil, which is available in capsule form, can be taken with water—or for quicker results, cut open and directly applied on the sunburn—to prevent irritation and swelling. It can be applied even when you’ve started to peel as it can help moisturize the area and avoid dryness.
Like vitamin E, black tea is an antioxidant. And like chamomile tea, you can carefully dab cooled black tea on your burn using a clean, soaked towel. Just remember that it only works in the first stage of sunburn.
There are tons of home remedies for sunburn, but do your research to make sure that they’re safe before trying out any of them out. Even natural ingredients can react negatively on some skin types, so it’s best to do a skin test or ask your doctor if you’re not sure.
Resist the urge to scratch
Sunburned skin can be incredibly itchy. Then again, you probably already know that scratching it only provides momentary relief before it starts to feel even more irritated, prickly, and painful. And if you’re not careful, it can cause damage to your tender skin and prolong the healing process. Regularly moisturizing the area and occasionally applying a cold compress can help relieve the itch.
Consider taking meds
Don’t be afraid to ask for prescription meds if the pain and swelling persists. The following are the most commonly used medications for sunburns:
- Naproxen – mild pain relief, anti-inflammatory
- Aspirin – fever and pain relief
- Ibuprofen – moderate pain relief
- Acetaminophen – reduces pain; alternative for aspirin
- Corticosteroids/Prednisone – reduces swelling and redness
Wear loose clothing
Tight clothing will keep brushing against your already irritated, sunburned skin. On the other hand, covering up less can lead to more sun exposure. The best solution is to wear loose-fitting clothing that will cover the affected area while letting it breathe and heal faster.
Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize
Sunburned areas will peel after a few days, so it’s important that you regularly apply moisturizer before, during, and after the peeling process. Not only will this aid healing but it will also reduce dryness that typically aggravates the itching. Drinking more water also helps speed up the creation of new skin cells and, ultimately, skin healing.
Read the labels
Your go-to skin protection products will be your sunblock or sunscreen, depending on your desired extent of sun protection. There are also UPF-rated rash guards that will help protect your skin even in the water. Whatever you decide to use, it helps to read the product label and look for their recommended hours for sun exposure. Some sunscreens will require reapplication every two hours and even sooner when you’re swimming. It can be easy to get distracted by all the fun, but these instructions will help save you from the hassle and pain that comes with sunburns.