Oops, you did it again. You spent too much time in the sun, and now you look like a human lobster.
In a perfect world, we’d apply sunscreen before we spent time in the sun—and would reapply often to prevent sunburn. But let’s face it: Mistakes happen. Most people at some point in their lives will get burned.
Having too much fun in the sun – and even partly cloudy weather – can hurt you in more ways than one. It may leave you looking like Ariel’s friend Sebastian and make you the butt of friends’ jokes, but even worse, it can cause lasting damage to your skin, putting you at greater risk for skin cancer.
“Repeated sunburns have been linked to skin cancer, so being aware of your surroundings and staying covered or using sunscreen is really important in the short and long term,” said Bellal Joseph, MD, a trauma and general surgeon at Banner - University Medical Center Tucson. “Burn prevention is an important step in preventing skin cancer, because it can help you completely avoid or minimize any issues while you’re in the sun.”
While you may know what you’re supposed to do to protect your skin and prevent a burn, you now see the error of your ways and need help STAT! for the red, warm heat radiating from your body.
Dr. Joseph shares a few dos and don’ts about sunburn treatment to help ease your suffering, soothe the pain and heal your skin.
Home remedies for treating bad sunburns
Do stay out of the sun. This should go without saying, but if you feel your skin is burning, seek shade or get indoors immediately.
Do take a cool bath or shower. Cool water (not cold) can help decrease inflammation and ease pain. For smaller areas, you can use a cold compress; just avoid applying ice directly to the skin.
Don’t take a hot bath or shower—this includes hot tubs, saunas and heated pools. Hot water can aggravate your inflamed skin and possibly cause more damage.
Do moisturize the affected area. When you hop out of the tub or shower, gently pat yourself off with a towel. While your skin is still damp, apply a moisturizer. Moisturizers that contain aloe vera are soothing to a lot of people, but aloe vera isn’t necessary. Sunburns dry out your skin, so moisturizing is key. It can help with any tightness and itching you may feel as well.
Don’t use lotions with benzocaine. These can irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
Do take OTC pain relievers. Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Don’t take more than recommended.
Do drink plenty of water. Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. This is key as people who spend a lot of time in the sun can become dehydrated.
Don’t ignore blistering or symptoms of dehydration. If you have blisters covering a large area or you’re experiencing extreme pain, nausea, chills, headache, fever or symptoms of dehydration, call your health care provider. These are all signs of a severe sunburn, which may require additional treatment, such as skin dressings, wound care and anti-inflammatory medications.
“Sun poisoning can start the same as a sunburn but progresses to other symptoms like a rash, blisters, sometimes even fevers, chills, nausea and overall not feeling well,” Dr. Joseph said. “If you have any symptoms of dehydration or significant blistering be sure and be seen by your doctor.”
To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.
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Updates were made to this article on August 3, 2022.