Damage Control for Sunburned Skin

Sunburn is nothing to trifle with; just five sunburns in the course of your life more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma. The best advice, of course, is to avoid burning by using sun protection strategies such as clothing, sunglasses, shade, and sunscreen. But mistakes happen. If you do sunburn, here are some steps to minimize discomfort while you heal:

ACT FAST: As soon as you feel tingling or see any skin reddening, get out of the sun and start treatment, before you make things worse; it will take four to six hours before you know just how bad the burn is.

DRINK UP: Your body works overtime to cool your skin when you’re in the sun, and sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body, explains dermatologist Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, Senior Vice President of The Skin Cancer Foundation. She advises taking in extra fluids while you’re in the sun and in the days after, as your skin recovers. Watch for signs of dehydration, which can especially make children ill; if your child suffers fever or chills, seek medical attention.

KILL THE PAIN: Sunburn hurts. Part of the reason is inflammation (swelling), so treat the burn with an anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen or a hydrocortisone cream.

COOL DOWN: Take a cool bath, then apply cool compresses and moisturizing lotion such as aloe vera; this will help your body release the extra heat and cut down on peeling, says Dr. Sarnoff.

DON'T BE FOOLED: Some things that have not been proven to aid sunburn relief include after-sun sprays, petroleum jelly such as Vaseline, and topical creams or oils containing vitamins.