The Best Way to Treat Sunburns This Summer

Summer is here, and we are all enjoying the warm, sunny days. While most of us remember to pack the sunscreen before heading to the pool or the beach, we frequently forget to use it when it comes to participating in/attending outdoor sporting events or for routine outdoor activities. Unprotected skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays in as little as 15 minutes. Yet, it can take up to twelve hours for skin to show the full effect of sun exposure. If your skin looks “a little pink” today, it may be burned tomorrow morning.

Don’t be fooled by the weather. Whether it is sunny or cloudy, you can still obtain a sunburn. UV rays, not the temperature, cause the damage. Clouds don’t block UV rays, they only filter them-and sometimes only slightly. Wind, sand, water, and even concrete surfaces can reflect and increase the sun’s burning rays by as much as 30%!

What do you do if you think that you have a sun burn? The first thing you should do is get out of the sun – and preferably go indoors. Once indoors, here are some tips to relieve the discomfort and promote healing:

1) Apply Compresses

Sunburned skin is inflamed and applying compresses dipped in any of the following solutions, then applied to the burned areas for 10-15 minutes several time a day, can help to reduce the inflammation and discomfort:

Cold Water: Use plain tap water and add a few ice cubes. Dip a wash cloth into the liquid and lay over the burn area for 10-15 minutes and repeat several times a day.

Aluminum Acetate: Domeboro powder can be obtained over the counter at the drug store and added to the water. The aluminum acetate in the powder helps to keep the skin from itching and reduces skin dryness.

Witch Hazel: This can also be obtained at the drug store. Moisten a cloth or cotton ball in the witch hazel and apply the astringent lightly to the burned areas.

These common kitchen staples are home remedies that can also help to soothe a sunburn:

Fat-Free Milk: Mix 1 cup of fat-free milk with 4 cups of water. Apply compresses for 10-15 minutes every 2-4 hours.

Yogurt: Apply yogurt to the sunburned areas and then rinse off in a cool shower.

Tea Bags: Tea contains antioxidants and tannic acid, which can help to reduce inflammation and sunburn pain. Apply tea bags soaked in cool water to reduce swelling, if your eyelids are burned.

2) Take Frequent Cool Baths or Showers to Help Relieve the Discomfort

Avoid soap. Soap can dry and irritate sunburned skin. As an alternative to cool compresses, you can take a cool bath. After your bath, gently pat dry your skin with a clean towel. Rubbing will irritate your burned skin. Adding vinegar or Aveeno to your bath water can help reduce pain, inflammation and itching:

White Vinegar: Mix 1 cup of white vinegar into a tube of cool water

Aveeno: Mix 1⁄2 cup of Aveeno (made from oatmeal and available at the drug store) to your bath water and soak for 15-20 minutes to help reduce itching.

3) Use a Moisturizer to Help Soothe Sunburned Skin

Immediately after your bath or compresses, pat dry and then apply a moisturizing cream or lotion, such as Eucerin or one that contains aloe vera. Chilling your moisturizer in the refrigerator can provide added relief. Topical steroid cream (1% hydrocortisone cream) can be obtained at the drug store without a prescription and can be applied to burned skin in adults for added relief. Topical anesthetic creams (“-caine” products such as benzocaine) can irritate the skin and should be avoided.

4) Consider Taking Over the Counter Medication to Reduce Fever and Discomfort

  • Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Ibuprofen, such as Advil or Motrin
  • Naproxen, such as Aleve or Naprosyn
  • Aspirin (also a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin

5) Drink Extra Water to Help Counteract the Drying Effects of a Sunburn

Remember that water in fruits counts too – a large wedge of watermelon provides 9 oz. (more that 1 cup) of water! Green Tea is an excellent antioxidant and can also help with hydration and reducing inflammation.

6) Take it Easy

Your body needs rest to recover, but sleeping on a sunburn can be difficult. Try sprinkling talcum powder (baby powder) on your sheets to minimize chafing and friction.

7) If Your Skin Blisters, Allow the Blisters to Heal

If you develop blisters, it means that you have a second-degree sunburn. Blisters form to protect your skin from infection and to help it heal. Do not pop them. If a blister has torn open, wash the area gently with mild soap and water. Do not use alcohol or iodine. Do not remove the flap of skin over a blister. Apply a topical antibiotic ointment like Bacitracin 3-4 times a day.

8) Take Extra Care to Protect Sunburned Skin While It Heals

It can take 3-4 months for your skin to return to normal. When you get a sunburn, the top layer of the skin peels off and the newly exposed skin is extra sensitive to the sun. Be careful to protect it. Be sure to wear hats, choose clothes made of tightly-woven fabrics, and wear sunscreen!

9) When to Call the Doctor

Fortunately, most sunburns are minor and respond well to the treatments we have outlined, but a few types of sunburns are severe and need medical treatment. Consult physician if you experience significant nausea, chills, fever, faintness, extensive blistering, general weakness, or large patches of purple discoloration over your skin.


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