Sunburns are the worst – not only do you find yourself in a state of agony and sensitivity, you probably have the most awkward tan lines too. With the summer season in full swing, we asked Good Zing expert and top London based Consultant Dermatologist Dr Justine Kluk to answer some of our burning (#sorrynotsorry) questions on how to prevent and treat a sunburn.
Before we go into more detail though, let's start with the basics. A sunburn is the response the skin provides to extreme exposure to ultraviolet rays (UV) from sunlight to indicate severe damage to the body. The ultraviolet B (also known as UVB) wavelength of light damages DNA molecules in skin cells – giving you that lovely lobster-red look you so desperately wanted.
Dr Kluk says, "We all recognise that sunburn is harmful, but getting a tan – whether from the beach, a sunbed or incidental exposure carrying out your normal day to day activities – is also bad news, whichever way you acquire it. Tans are caused by harmful ultraviolet UV rays, and if you have one, you’ve sustained damage to the genetic material (DNA) in your skin which puts you at higher risk of skin cancer and premature skin ageing."
What happens to your skin when you get sunburn
Redness is usually the first indication of sunburnt skin. It's the inflammatory response that the human body gives in situations that require repair. It remains red after a bad sunburn because of the dilated blood vessels.
Dr Kluk says, "In the short term, sunburn causes redness, pain and discomfort. Fever, dehydration, blistering and peeling are all potential risks of a severe sunburn and it just looks plain unsightly to cap it all off. In the longer run, skin cancers such as melanoma are particularly associated with intermittent sunburn episodes. Fine lines, dark spots and weathering of the skin are also signs of having had too much sun exposure."
Why do sunburns hurt
The human skin begins to lose moisture as well as hydration after it goes red. Dr Kluk continues, "Our bodies normally produce a pigment called melanin to try and protect the deeper layers of our skin from sun damage. When our skin is exposed to UV rays, it steps up melanin production to try and boost this protection. This causes the skin to become darker and is why we get a tan. If UV rays exceed what can be blocked by your level of melanin, reddening of the skin and sunburn will result." There is a feeling of tightness that becomes painful after sometime. This is the main reason why sunburnt skin usually hurts and has that well-recognised stinging pain that is quite uncomfortable for most people.
Home remedies to get rid of a sunburn fast
There are a few natural ways and home remedies you can try to ease the pain and discomfort of a sunburn fast. To provide some relief from minor sunburns, try the followingtips from our community:
1. Wear lose, cool clothing while you still have the sunburn.
2. Have a cold shower or bath a couple of times a day.
3. Use aloe vera and other cooling lotions on the affected areas. This helps to relieve both swelling and helps you get rid of the pain from a sunburn.
4. Hydrate as much as possible – drink a lot of fluids cools down the body and prevents dehydration.
5. Apply chamomile compresses to the sunburnt parts of your body.
What to do about really bad sunburn
Severe sunburns are considered to be a form of first degree burns – the damage to the skin can't be reversed but the pain can be managed and the skin can eventually heal. The following is a step by step guide of how to treat a severe sunburn:
1. Use a mild soap and cool water to thoroughly wash the area. Avoid rubbing your skin as it can irritate the burn even further and cause more pain. Gently place a towel on the skin. Be careful, don't use freezing cold water as this significantly slows down the healing process and also encourages the formation of a frostbite injury on the sunburn. A little moisture should be left on the burn to help with the healing process.
2. If you see blisters forming from the burn, consult a doctor immediately. Severe sunburns usually have blisters that leak pus. You must try to keep this area as clean as possible using the mild soap and cool water previously mentioned. Your doctor may pop the blister and prescribe an antibiotic to help make the sunburn go away faster. Don't go at it on your own though – popping a blister alone may increase the chances of developing an infection and that's why it's recommended you let a doctor handle it.
3. Apply a cold compress to the sunburn wound. A pre-made compress can be used for this or you can even use a towel dipped in ice-cold water. Repeat this several times a day for 10 to 15 minutes to help cool you off.
4. A soy-based or oatmeal-based moisturiser or aloe vera gel should be generously applied on the affected area. These serve to cool the burn and assist damaged skin to maintain moisture and eventually heal.
5. Stay out of the sun as much as possible while your skin is healing. You surely don't want to make matters worse.
How to get rid of peeling skin from sunburn
The peeling effect after a sunburn is in part due to the body finding a way to dispose of cells with DNA damage. Because those cells can potentially lose control and become cancerous, the human brain therefore issues instructions to damaged cells to sacrifice themselves via repair mechanisms present in these cells. Pretty interesting right?
Those who are peeling from a bad sunburn should try the following beauty and skincare routine or home remedy to get rid of dry skin on the face and body overnight:
1. Use a cream that contains mild hydro-cortisone. This help treat and decrease the pain and itchiness of a sunburn.
2. Apply a thick moisturiser on top of the cream that will provide support to the skin and even provide an effective barrier for potential infections.
Remember, wear sunscreen and don't forget to reapply often! If you do get caught out, follow the advice above. Now you're prepped and ready for all that summer holiday-ing in the sun.
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