There can’t be many of us who haven’t suffered from sunburn at some stage during our lives. When we’re outside enjoying ourselves, playing sports, or bike riding perhaps, we may not bother with applying sunscreen and we’re often not aware we’re burning until it’s too late. Anyone spending time in the open air is susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, even on cloudy days. Sunburn is extremely painful and damaging to our skin and the earlier you start treating it, the sooner you can recover and help limit any further damage.
What causes sunburn
The natural response of our skin to the sun’s powerful UV rays is to produce more melanin. The more melanin we produce, the darker our skin becomes and we appear tanned. Sunburn occurs when the amount of exposure to sunlight exceeds the body’s ability to produce enough melanin to provide effective protection for their skin.
However, certain skin types are even more susceptible to sunburn than the rest of us. In particular, anyone with fair or red hair, lots of freckles or moles and blue or grey eyes will often find it difficult to tan and will burn easily. Their skin simply doesn’t produce enough melanin to protect them.
Symptoms of sunburn
Symptoms from sunburn can vary from mild redness through to painful reddened skin. In severe cases there may be swelling accompanied by skin blistering and a high temperature. This is particularly dangerous in children who can rapidly dehydrate.
How to treat sunburn
Sunburn must be treated as soon as possible but it will take time to heal and there is no quick fix. In the meantime there are steps you can take to help alleviate some of the pain and discomfort.
1. In cases of mild sunburn, take a lukewarm shower to help subdue the radiating heat and cool you down. Alternatively, dampen a towel with cool water and gently apply it to the affected areas;
2. Take pain relief that includes an anti-inflammatory to help minimize any swelling as well as relieving some of the pain and discomfort;
3. Apply an after-sun cream. These often contain special anti-inflammatory ingredients to help protect against swelling. If you don’t have any after-sun, a non-perfumed moisturizing cream will help cool skin down as well as help prevent moisture loss. As a natural alternative, aloe vera gel can help with cooling the skin down but won’t necessarily help speed up healing. A low dose hydrocortizone cream (0.5%-1%) can help to speed up healing and at the same time decrease pain and swelling;
4. Drink plenty of water to keep yourself as hydrated as possible. We lose a lot of moisture through our skin and even more when it’s sunburned;
5. Take care not to burst any blisters. The serum inside them forms a protective layer over the burn and bursting them is likely to put you at an increased risk of infection;
6. Avoid any further exposure to the sun until all signs of redness, swelling and peeling have completely disappeared.
When to seek medical help
In certain instances where sunburn is severe, you should seek medical help as soon as possible.
1. If a large area of the body has been burned;
2. When there are multiple blisters;
3. If the sunburned person isn’t responding to medication for a high temperature;
4. If they are showing signs of dehydration;
5. Babies or children suffering from severe sunburn should always see a doctor as soon as possible as their condition can deteriorate fast.
If you’ve been unfortunate enough to suffer from sunburn, start treatment as soon as you’re aware of the problem. By taking painkillers, applying cool compresses and keeping yourself well hydrated you should be over the worst within a few days. And remember, prevention is better than cure, so take steps to ensure you are well protected from the sun in future. Always wear a high protection sunscreen when you’re outdoors, and try avoiding the sun during the hottest part of the day. By taking sensible precautions you should be able to enjoy your time in the sun and not suffer for it later.