When people tell me I’m dark, they usually mean my morbid sense of humor. But during the summer, the comment is more often a compliment of my golden-brown tan.
No, I haven’t visited a tanning salon. But as a perennial outdoor enthusiast, I’m always frolicking around in the sun, so my skin has naturally been kissed by its warm and glowing rays.
Of course, that’s the Disney-fied version of how I got my glow. The reality is, my coveted copper tan was preceded by a painful sunburn – one that blistered, peeled, and made me sing high-pitched profanity in the shower.
Sure, I understand the importance of sunscreen – I did write an entire article about SPFs last spring – but sometimes, my distractibility wins over diligence, and I completely forget to lather up my skin. In those cases, it’s only when I feel the red-hot tingling on my cheeks that I’m reminded of my sad lapse in judgment, and by that point, it’s usually too late.
But he forgot the sunscreen, a tale of sunburn and woe https://t.co/vHwUcfHP6W
— Meghan Scott Molin (@megfuzzle) June 11, 2022
I know I’m not alone in my suffering – we all know what it’s like to look like a sun-smacked lobster, or peel like a molting snake. Each year, more than one-third of Americans report developing sunburn, a skin reaction that occurs from overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Symptoms can include pain, swelling, itching, tenderness, blistering, or even fever and nausea if the sunburn is severe. Repeated sunburn is, of course, a major risk factor for skin cancer.
When it comes to sunburn, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure, so prioritizing a high-quality SPF lotion is ideal. But for the occasionally absent-minded among us – or for situations when our layer of sunscreen didn’t last as long as we’d hoped – our top priorities become relief and recovery. Fortunately, skincare experts have plenty of recommendations on the best sunburn relief for your skin.
Best Sunburn Relief Methods
Ready to seek out some of that sweet relief from your own blistering burn? Follow these tips and you’ll treat your troubled skin in no time.
Cool Off Your Skin
“Part of why [sunburns] are uncomfortable is because of the inflammatory response of your body. Keeping the skin cool lowers it and reduces discomfort,” notes Melissa Gilbert, an esthetician at Fantastic Services. For instance, the American Academy Of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends that you take cool baths or showers – just make sure you avoid soaps with harsh chemicals that would dry out your skin. Instead, choose a mild, all-natural soap like O Naturals Coconut & Shea Butter Soap, which contains hydrating oils and minerals.
Keep Your Skin Moisturized
A good moisturizer can soothe your damaged skin and help your sunburn recover. “Ideally, when you step out of a cool shower, lightly pat the skin with dripping water so it remains a little damp and apply a bland moisturizer – free of fragrance, menthol, and essential oils,” Gilbert advises. “These are ingredients that can be irritating to a sunburn.” Look for a moisturizer that contains ceramides – lipids that help restore the protective layer of the skin – like CeraVe Moisturizing Cream for normal-to-dry skin or Aveeno Skin Relief Moisture Repair for extra-dry skin.
Drink More Water
It’s important to “moisturize the skin not only on the outside but also on the inside,” points out Steven Paul Nistico, M.D., director of dermatology at the Heliotherapy Research Institute. When you’re sunburned, the injury draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of your body, so drinking extra water can help prevent dehydration. “If possible, drink eight to ten glasses of water a day,” Dr. Nistico recommends. (And if you’re active or extra-sweaty in the heat, consider adding electrolyte powders to your water bottle).
Apply A Hydrocortisone Cream
“Low-dose hydrocortisone cream can be helpful in reducing the burning sensation, swelling, and in speeding up healing,” says Anna Chacon, M.D., a dermatologist and writer at MyPsoriasisTeam. Look for a cream that is between 0.5 and 1% hydrocortisone, like Thera Care Hydrocortisone Cream, which also contains nourishing vitamins and aloe.
Soothe With Aloe Vera
Speaking of aloe, a concentrated aloe vera gel can effectively soothe your sunburned skin. “Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory compounds, and some of them can even minimize the risk of hyperpigmentation,” Gilbert explains. Try a gel product that is at least 99% aloe vera, like Holika Holika Aloe 99% Soothing Gel or Bighture 100% Aloe Vera Gel. Just make sure you’re also keeping your skin hydrated with a moisturizer, Gilbert warns, as most aloe vera gels contain alcohol that can be drying.
Create An Oatmeal Soak
“Oatmeal is a natural anti-inflammatory,” Gilbert points out. “Make a paste of oatmeal and cold milk, and apply it to your skin,” she recommends. If you’re not feeling adventurous enough to make an oatmeal bath from scratch, use a product that contains colloidal oatmeal, like Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment With Colloidal Oatmeal. When you disperse the packet in water, the powder forms a soothing bath that relieves itchy, irritated skin.
“Sometimes severe sunburns get really painful. One of the ways to treat them is ibuprofen, which is an anti-inflammatory medication that decreases the body’s inflammatory and pain response to the burn,” explains Eva Shelton, M.D., an internal medicine and dermatology physician at Brigham And Women’s Hospital. Look for an over-the-counter tablet that contains ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin, like Equate Ibuprofen Pain Reliever Tablets or Genuine Bayer Aspirin Pain Reliever Tablets. (Warning: Do not give aspirin to children or teenagers, urges Dr. Chacon, due to an increased risk of Reye’s syndrome, a rare but serious disorder.)
Stay Out Of The Sun
“When your skin is burnt, your defenses are down and your immune system isn’t working properly, so it can’t heal more damage,” explains Gilbert. “If you have to go out, wear long sleeves and clothing to protect your skin.” Fabrics with a tight weave work best, Gilbert says. You can also protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
See A Doctor
Tried every remedy under the sun with little success? You may need to consult a doctor for your sunburn if it’s especially severe with blisters; if it’s accompanied by fever or nausea; or if you’ve developed a skin infection (indicated by swelling, pus, or red streaks). In these cases, your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid cream or a short course of oral steroids to treat the burn.
Have you suffered from sunburn recently? Which remedies helped the most? Tell us in the comments below!
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