You’re enjoying the outdoors and staying in the water (because we all know that’s the only way to stay cool in the summer heat!) but before you know it, you’ve burned.
Maybe you missed an area when you applied your sunscreen. Maybe you didn’t reapply like you know you should. Or perhaps you forgot sun protection altogether. No matter the reason you’re sporting a sunburn, the right treatment can relieve your discomfort and even reverse some of the damage.
We’ve all heard the phrase, “The best offense is a good defense.” It rings as true for sun protection as it does for sports. Applying sunscreen should be an everyday routine, indoors or out, clouds or sun.
Apply it as soon as you go outside and reapply every couple of hours. If you still get burned while wearing sunscreen, then learn from it. Up your SPF and apply more frequently the next time you spend the day in the sun. (See: Which Sunscreen SPF is Enough For Your Skin?)
Believe it or not, you can potentially reverse sun damage with a steroid. A topical steroid applied repeatedly within the first 24 hours after getting a burn helps block redness and inflammation.
A lot of the cell damage occurs because of swelling. So, if you block the inflammation, you stop the damage. As soon as you start to turn red, visit or call your dermatologist to get a prescription steroid – the stronger, the better.
If you can’t get the prescription, turn to the best age-old sunburn remedy – aloe. It’s anti-inflammatory, which means it eases the pain, but it also protects the skin against water loss. Most of the pain from a sunburn comes from the feeling of the water leaving the skin – trans-epidermal water loss. Aloe gel blocks some of that moisture from leaving. Aloe can’t change the severity of the sunburn like prescription hydrocortisone can, but it’s the best over-the-counter treatment you can buy.
After the first 24 hours, use an emollient. Again, much of the pain that comes from burned skin relates to water loss. You need to replenish the skin with moisture. Choose a product that melts rather than a thick cream you have to spread – the latter pulls your skin, making the sunburn sting. Products containing petrolatum and mineral oil spread easily. We recommend Elta MD Extreme Moisturizer.
What Doesn’t Work
There are plenty of home remedies out there, but some just don’t help. Witch hazel, rubbing alcohol, or other astringents irritate the skin. And since you’re dealing with damaged skin, more irritation is the last thing you need.
Also, avoid popping blisters. Blisters are nature’s way of creating a bandage. The longer you keep a blister on, the better the chance that the skin underneath will heal. So resist the urge to pop those blisters, and give your skin a fighting chance.
Sunburns can happen to the best of us. For whatever reason you got a little red in the face, the aforementioned steps make the burn bearable.
Dr. R. Todd Plott is a board-certified dermatologist in Coppell, Keller, and Saginaw, TX. His specialization and professional interests include treating patients suffering with acne, identifying and solving complex skin conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea, atopic dermatitis, and identifying and treating all types of skin cancers. In his spare time, Dr. Plott enjoys cycling, traveling with his wife, and spending time with his children and new grandson.
Learn more about Dr. Plott.