How to prevent and treat a sunburn

How to prevent and treat a sunburn

I got burned anyway! What the heck?

I noted that my skin seldom burns, but my fiancé, who’s about as pale as one can be, gets lobster-red after a day in the sun, even if he’s doused in sunscreen. Why? It comes down to the evolution of skin types. See, I inherited my mother’s olive-tinged Mexican complexion, while my fiancé, 100 percent Irish, got well, the Irish complexion.

“Certain darker skin types are more tolerating of the world. They’re not immune to cancer by any means, but their [protective] skin cells called melanocytes turn on more easily,” says Dr. Wooden. So my skin, though removed both ancestrally and geographically from Mexico, was designed, through years of evolution, to be adaptable to the balmy climate. My fiancé, on the other hand, has skin that had no reason to adapt to hot weather, and is meant to thrive in the drearier climes of Dublin or Derry, Ireland.

Fair-skinned people like him need to go “the extra step” in sun care, best achieved by wearing sun-protective clothing or just staying in the shade altogether.

To lower your odds of being burned, Dr. Joshua D. Zuckerman, a plastic surgeon, recommends looking up the UV index in your area, and staying out of the sun during high UV days. Even on low UV days you should apply sunscreen.

Treating the burn so it heals fast

If you get a sunburn, you’ll need four things to heal it quickly:

  • Water (to drink)
  • A tub or shower with cold water
  • An anti-inflammatory
  • And a topical, soothing ointment

“The key thing to recognize is that this is a superficial burn so rehydrating is important,” says Dr. Wooden. “You need to rehydrate from the inside out as well as from the outside in.”

Drink tons of water, but do it in the shade or indoors so your body can cool down.

Once home, Dr. Wooden recommends soaking in a cold tub. A cool shower should also do the trick. The point is to physically cool the skin down.

“Next is the anti-inflammatory component,” says Dr. Wooden. “An anti-inflammatory, like Motrin, can be very helpful in soothing the inflammation of a sunburn.”

Finally, you’ll want to treat the skin itself.

“Bland topical creams and ointments (a shorter ingredient list is almost always better than a long one) help reduce itch and speed healing in any areas where blisters have occurred or skin has peeled,” says Dr. Hollmig. “Topical anti-itch medications are typically best avoided, as these can sometimes cause an allergic skin reaction that increases discomfort. Any blisters should be either left intact or gently drained from the side using a sterile needle. The roof of blisters should be left in place to serve as a protective covering of the injured skin beneath.”

So, what about the shaving cream ‘hack’?

A new Buzzfeed article that went viral featured a woman who healed her sunburn by coating the affected area in menthol shaving cream and letting it sit for 30 minutes. While it may be new to many of us, Dr. Wooden laughs this off as nothing new.

“It’s not a hack; it’s been around for years and it’s how shaving cream works,” Wooden asserts. “The job of shaving cream is to hydrate, soften and moisturize.”

But does it work? It can — but it doesn’t have to be your first go-to.

“I typically recommend Sarna lotion that does have menthol in it, but it also has pramoxine that numbs the burn and itch,” says Dr. Holly Gunn, assistant professor in University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Dermatology. Using a creamy moisturizer with aloe vera can help too, like Jason Soothing Aloe Vera Cream. You can use any creamy moisturizer several times throughout the day to help hydrate the skin.”


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