You were out on the boat all day, you forgot to reapply sunscreen and before you knew it, you scored a nasty sunburn. Or maybe you were just mowing the lawn for an hour – maybe it was even cloudy – and it didn’t even cross your mind to put on sunscreen. Now you’re scorched.
No matter how many times we’re told we should use sunscreen every day, sometimes we fail. And when that happens and your skin is blazing red, you’ve got to treat it. “Sunburn may seem like just a temporary situation,” says Robert Friedman, MD, a dermatologist at New York University’s Langone Medical Centre. “It looks bad, it hurts, it peels, but it can also cause long-lasting damage to the skin, such as wrinkles or even skin cancer.”
That’s because sunburn directly damages the DNA of skin cells, says Whitney Bowe, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. “Although prevention is best, if you quickly treat a sunburn, you might have a shot at minimizing the damage done to the cells,” Bowe says. “You want to help the skin repair itself as quickly as possible.” Here’s what to do.
Get Out Of The Sun: This sounds like a no-brainer, but it’s crucial – and something people too often don’t do. “As soon as a sunburn becomes evident, get out of the sun,” says Bowe. Some damage has already been done, and you don’t want to harm your skin any more. That means moving the backyard BBQ inside, calling it a day in the garden or popping up the umbrella at your patio table. “Stay out of the sun until the burn fades,” says Friedman.
Assess The Damage: Most sunburns aren’t severe enough to send you to the ER. Even if a couple of small blisters pop up, it’s usually safe to treat the burn at home. “But if you develop blisters on more than 20 percent of your body, seek medical attention immediately,” says Bowe. You should also head to the hospital if you feel nauseous, get intense chills or run a fever.
Take A Pain Reliever: For sunburns that you can treat on your own, over-the-counter painkillers can take the edge off. If the burn’s not so bad – mainly your skin just feels a little tender – Friedman suggests popping an ibuprofen (Advil), which acts as an anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling and ease pain. If you also have a headache or mild chills, go with acetaminophen (Tylenol), he says.
Take A Cool Bath: It’s also important to cool the skin down, says Friedman, but skip the shower – the continual blast of water on your scorched skin will not feel good. “I suggest taking a bath to cool down the skin gently,” Friedman says. Also skip the soap, which will dry skin out even more. Instead, add a few scoops of baking soda to your bath.
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