Summer might be winding down, but the sun's rays are as potent as ever. Although your best bet to treating a sunburn is to stop it before it starts with ample amounts of sunscreen, sometimes things happen. That SPF wasn't as effective as you thought, you missed a spot, or that dip in the pool accidentally washed it off. Put a nasty burn in its place with these top tips from an expert dermatologist. Oh and next time, please use some sunscreen!
What is a sunburn?: This might sound obvious, but a sunburn occurs when the skin becomes red due to overexposure to the sun's harmful UV radiation. And that redness isn't just unsightly. It could be dangerous. "Sunburns can cause long-lasting damage to the skin," says Dr. Hadley King, dermatologist at Skinney Medspa. "A person's risk for melanoma—the most serious form of skin cancer—doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns." As if you needed another reminder to wear sunscreen! And tanning doesn't excuse you from SPF either. Even if you're more prone to tanning, remember, tanning is a defense mechanism the body uses when the DNA of skin cells is getting damaged by UV radiation. "Both suntans and sunburns result from DNA damage that can pave the way to skin cancer," explains Dr. King.
The first 24 hours after the burn: Your first step to lessening the pain and redness caused by a burn is to take an oral anti-inflammatory like aspirin within the first 24 hours of getting burned. Next, Dr. King suggests taking a cool shower, patting dry, and leaving a little water on the skin. Apply a moisturizer to help trap water in the skin. "Use a moisturizer that contains aloe vera or soy to help soothe the burn," she says. "And a one percent hydrocortisone cream can also be helpful for areas that feel particularly uncomfortable."
The first few days of the burn: If the burn is particularly painful, apply a washcloth soaked in cold low-fat milk for 15 minutes at a time. "The fat content of milk cleanses and moisturizes but can hold in heat so switch to full-fat milk as the active phase of the sunburn resolves and the dry and peeling phase begins," she explains. The enzymes in milk also provide gentle exfoliation while the proteins, vitamins, and minerals found in it are anti-inflammatory. Another option to soothing the affected area: plain yogurt.
When your skin starts to peel: Although peeling is a natural part of the healing process, it can be unsightly and a bit painful. Dr. King suggests using a non-greasy moisturizer to treat the area. And do your best not to peel skin! Although it might be tempting to tug or pull at it, peeling skin is still used to cover and protect sensitive new skin. Lastly, stay hydrated to promote healing. And do your best to stay out of the sun immediately after a burn to avoid any further irritation to damaged or sensitive skin.
What are your best tips for healing a sunburn? Let us know!
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