Sunburn is your body’s reaction to excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The top layers of your skin release chemicals that cause your blood vessels to expand and leak fluids, causing inflammation, pain, and redness. Without protection, UV radiation (both UVA and UVB) will immediately start to penetrate deep into the layers of your skin and damage the skin’s cells. Skin turns red within two to six hours of being burnt and will continue to develop for the next 24 to 72 hours.Sunburned skin may also start to peel as it heals. Peeling occurs when damaged skin cells self-destruct and peel off in tatty sheets. This is the body’s way of getting rid of damaged skin cells that have the potential to develop into cancers.
Repeated sunburn increases your risk of developing melanoma. All types of sunburn, whether serious or mild, can cause permanent and irreversible skin damage and further sunburn only increases your risk of skin cancer.
If you are severely sunburned or you are experiencing blistering, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or severe pain, you should seek immediate hospital treatment.
We know that the best way to avoid damaging our skin is to avoid exposure to UV radiation using sun smart practises. This is important to your long-term skin health because sunburn can lead to an increased chance of skin cancer. However, despite our care, it’s likely we will still experience sunburn at some stage. That’s why we need to know how to treat sunburn, as well as knowing how to prevent it.
How to treat sunburn
- Get out of the sun. It may seem obvious, but as soon as you notice the signs of sunburn, it’s time to move to the shade or indoors. What might appear as a light pinkish tinge during the day can progress to severe sunburn within ho Don’t take the risk; remove yourself from harmful UV rays and start treating your sunburn earlier rather than later.
- Have a cool shower or bath, then lather the affected area witha cool lotion, as it will help reduce discomfort: aloe vera gel or spray is especially effective. Dampen your skin with some cool water prior to applying the lotion in order to lock in moisture and reduce dryness. However, be careful with which lotions you use – be aware of those that contain petroleum (which will trap heat within the skin) and Benzocaine or Lidocaine (both of which can irritate the skin).
- Let your skin heal in peace; if blisters form, do not break them! This will disrupt the healing process and can result in permanent scarring. The general rule is that if the blisters cover more than 20 per cent of the burnt area,seek medical attention. However, if you are suffering from fevers or chills, you should also seek medical aid. Of course, sunburn blisters can widely vary in severity; if the sunburn or blisters are not extreme, you can usually treat them at home.
- Drink, drink and drink. It is crucial that following a bad case of sunburn, you keep up your fluid intake. Sip on water, juice or coconut water in order to avoid dehydration, as sunburn will dry out the skin as well as the inside of the body (as water is drawn to the surface of the dermis from the body in attempting to rehydrate it). Foods, especially fruits with high concentrations of water will help keep you rehydrated – watermelon in particular contains a high concentration of water.
- Make sure to avoid further sun exposure during the skin’s healing process – your burnt skin will be more sensitive to UV rays when it is already burnt, so wear tightly woven fabrics that cover your skin, a hat, SPF protected sunglasses and SPF 30+ sunscreen.
Whilst these tips may assist in the sunburn healing process, they should not be taken as an excuse to let your sun protection slip.