6 simple, quick ways to treat sunburn

Skin Care

by Baylor Scott & White Health

May 19, 2021

It’s that time of year again. As temperatures get warmer, you may be tempted to hold off on the sunscreen. You figure a little sun won’t hurt, but then the next thing you know, you’re sunburned.

Too much exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can not only be painful and damaging to your skin, but it can also put you at risk for skin cancer. The more you burn, the greater your risk for skin cancer—no matter what time of year.

How to treat a sunburn

Katherine Fiala, MD, a dermatologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Specialty Care Center Dermatology Clinic – Temple, offers the following tips to tips to deal with sunburn.

1. Act quickly

Sunburns tend to sneak up on us, so a touch of pink at the beach could turn into a big problem later.

“If you feel the tale-tell tingling of a burn or see any sign of skin reddening on yourself or your child, get out of the sun and start treatment,” Dr. Fiala said.

2. Moisturize

Once you’re out of the sun, take a cool bath or shower to help relieve the pain. Pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin and

slather on a moisturizing cream or lotion. You can use lotion to make peeling and flaking less noticeable. For the first day or two, you may also want to apply hydrocortisone cream to help with the discomfort.

An aloe vera gel may also help reduce redness and inflammation.

“Aloe vera provides a temporary cooling effect, which helps with the discomfort,”  Dr. Fiala said.

Follow all of the tips to soothe the skin, not just apply aloe vera, Dr. Fiala said. When using creams, avoid scrubbing, picking, peeling or breaking any blisters.

3. Hydrate

Any burn draws fluid to the skin surface and away from the rest of the body, Dr. Fiala said.

After a sunburn, it’s important to drink extra water, juice and sports drinks for a couple of days and watch for the following signs of dehydration:

  • Dry mouth
  • Thirst
  • Reduced urination
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Sleepiness

4. Don’t wait to medicate

If you suspect sunburn, consider taking the recommended dose of ibuprofen over the next 48 hours.

“This cuts back on the swelling and redness that is going to occur and might prevent some long-term skin damage,” Dr. Fiala said.

5. Assess the damage

Most sunburn, even the ones with a few blisters, can be treated at home, but there are some cases where you may need to seek medical attention. If a blistering burn covers 20 percent or more of the body (for example, a child’s whole back), you should seek medical attention.

Anyone with a sunburn suffering fevers and chills should also seek medical help.

6. Commit to staying sun safe

It’s never too late to start protecting your skin.

“Consider the burn a warning that your sun-safety net has failed and vow to do better,” Dr. Fiala said

Adopting a complete sun protection strategy is your first line of defense to avoid future burns and drastically reduce your skin cancer risk. Practice these skin-safe behaviors:

  • Seek the shade: Especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths
  • Cover up: Many new fabrics offer high-tech protection and breathability, making covering up a breeze. Don’t forget a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen: Make sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher part of your daily skincare routine. Use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for extended outdoor activity.
  • Apply sunscreen before exposure: The best practice is to apply 30 minutes before venturing outside to allow the sunscreen to bind to your skin. Reapply every two hours of exposure and immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep babies sun safe. Newborns should stay out of direct sunlight. Use sunscreen on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin from head to toe every month.
  • See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

“As a dermatologist, I hope to educate as many people as possible about the dangers of excessive sun exposure and the dangers of tanning bed use,” Dr. Fiala said.

Need a spot check? Find a dermatologist here.

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