The pain, redness and occasional blistering that you experience when you have a sunburn happens because you exposed your skin to more sun than it was designed to handle.
The burn tells you that you have both damaged DNA and damaged skin cells, and for these there is no fix.
You can relieve the symptoms of inflammation a little with proper care, but you can’t do anything to undo the DNA and cell damage.
This means that the most important form of treatment for a sunburn is prevention; once the UV rays start damaging your skin, a complex inflammatory process has already begun that ends in redness and discomfort…. and there’s no going back.
This is part 3 of my Sunburn Series. Together they create a complete picture of what sun does to your skin. The first post is titled: What Is A Sunburn? The second post is: What is A Tan? In this third and final post I try to give you some suggestions for how to care for your skin if you’re unlucky enough to get a sunburn. I also give you advice for preventing another sunburn in the future.
The treatment that I’m outlining below is simply an attempt to ease the inflammation and discomfort, it does not fix the DNA and cell damage-that’s an unfortunate lifetime souvenir.
4 Simple steps that can relieve the discomfort of a sunburn:
- The best thing to help lessen the redness and discomfort is to start taking aspirin or a indomethacin (a prescription medicine requiring your doctor’s supervision). These help fight some forms of inflammation, but they need to be taken prior to or immediately after the sun exposure before the redness has gotten really bad. (I’m not going to give dosing recommendations as this is a medical treatment and requires your doctor’s supervision, the info here is purely educational.)
- Topical prescription cortisone creams applied to the red skin within 6 hours can provide a little relief too. Again, this requires your personal doctor’s supervision and many cortisone creams are only for use on specific areas of your skin; this info is educational only!
- Moisturizers should be applied within 3 minutes after toweling off from a cool water bath or shower to keep skin soothed and hydrated, but peeling will still most likely occur in about a week.
- Pure aloe vera gel can sooth inflamed skin. Never use one with a topical anesthetic ingredient, such as benzocaine or lidocaine, because they can cause an allergic skin rash.
What to avoid when you have a sunburn:
Sunburned skin is more vulnerable to irritation than normal skin. Its barrier strength is damaged because it’s swollen and the protective outer dead skin cell layer is peeling. This means that it’s porous and fragile and needs the be ‘babied’. If you don’t baby it you may cause even more injury. The redness and pain may last longer and you may be at greater risk for uneven skin color when you finally heal. This means: