If there’s one thing you can depend on in the summer, it’s the muy caliente climate. The blazing sun easily becomes our best friend when we are on a gorgeous stretch of beach. But while many of us love the look of bronzed skin, not everyone can take the heat—and that’s why sunburn is the number one bane of the bikini-and-board-shorts set.
Every summer, tons of unfortunate tanners (and casual beach walkers) fall prey to sunburn after being overexposed to the sun’s UV rays. The burn manifests in reddish skin that is hot to the touch, a lot of unsightly peeling, and in the worst cases, bulging blisters. It also produces an unpleasant stinging sensation in the affected areas that makes body contact difficult. The pain may even prevent you from reclining in certain positions and wearing certain clothes! In short, sunburn is one of the quickest ways to ruin a lovely vacation—that is, if you don’t know how to treat it.
Many of you who have recently returned from the beach may already be burned to the bone, while others who are still planning to hit the shores may be in search of an emergency salve. Here, we’ve compiled a guide to treating sunburn should you become one of its many victims. Read on, and stay cool!
PREMEDITATION IS THE BEST MEDICATION
If you safeguard your skin from the beginning, you won’t have to go through the ordeal of getting burned. Here are a few practical ways to protect your pelt from an ultraviolet invasion—after all, as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!
Lathering on the protective cream is common sense for avoiding sunburn. Sunscreen works as a shield against the sun by absorbing harmful UV rays that cause your skin to burn, which makes it the ideal first line of defense. Make sure to use a sunscreen with a high enough SPF to give you effective coverage—the higher the SPF number, the more sun protection you get, but remember that while SPF is important, reapplication is even more so. This Suite101.com article on treating sunburn suggests an SPF of 30 or above. Reapply your sunscreen every couple of hours so your UV protection remains in full force. For more on sunscreen, check out Female Network’s guide to SPF .
Just because you’re wearing sun block doesn’t mean you can soak in the rays for hours on end. Otherwise, sunburn will be the least of your worries—prolonged contact with the sun also puts you at risk of skin cancer. Remember, a light to moderate tan is all you need to give your skin a burnished glow—don’t overdo it!
When it isn’t necessary for you to be stripped down to your swimsuit, put some clothes on. Although it isn’t a foolproof way to evade the sun, having an outer layer over your skin can help decrease the chances of you getting burned. The same article from Suite101.com shares that “wearing a t-shirt in the sun is the equivalent of SPF 25.” Take a shirt, sarong, or whatever your choice of cover-up along for the walk if you plan on strolling along the sultry shores all day. You can check out FN’s article on beach cover ups for tips on layering by the sea.
TREATING MILD SUNBURN
Sunburn can happen to even the most well-protected pelt, and sometimes there’s really no avoiding it. Mild sunburn leaves your skin feeling taut and a few degrees hotter than the rest of your body—not to mention redder. And while it isn’t extremely painful, it can progress into a more serious burn if not treated at the onset. Don’t sweat it; just know how to soothe it!
Get out of the sun.
Once you realize you’ve been burned, retreat into the shade—and stay there. Nothing aggravates sunburn like more sun, so although it may put a damper on some of your plans, it’s better to say sayonara to the rays before your burn gets worse.
Make a cold compress.
This eHow.com article on treating sunburn suggests applying a wet cloth on the affected areas to help relieve some of the discomfort. Take a piece of cloth or a clean rag and soak it in ice water or cold milk, then press it gently over the sunburn. This is a good way of soothing the hot sensation if you are nowhere near your accommodations and cannot take a cool bath. (Note: Do not “bathe” in the ocean—saltwater will only make your burn sting!)
Aloe gel is renowned as a cooling agent, and it will bring you instant relief if you apply it over your sunburns several times a day. This eHow.com article on sunburn relief even shares an additional aloe perk: the miracle gel can turn your burn into a tan, if you use it to remedy your scorched skin from the very start. You can purchase aloe gels from drugstores and department stores—even your local supermarket. If you have access to the real deal, squeeze out the gel from inside the leaf cut from an aloe vera plant—this may not smell great, but it’s very effective.
Moisturize and hydrate.
Even the mildest sunburns can result in itching and peeling if not treated directly. It is just as important to keep scorched skin hydrated as it is to cool it down—otherwise, you’ll be shedding nasty little strips of dead skin a week after your beach trip. This About.com guide on sunburn skincare suggests that you use a natural-based moisturizer like cocoa butter to reduce the dryness. Do not use oil or butter to soothe or moisturize burned skin—this is an old wives’ tale that will only aggravate the situation. Also, never try to exfoliate any peeling portions, as this will irritate the sunburn.
Hydrate the rest of your system by drinking lots of water. When you are sunburned, your body is susceptible to dehydration, which may cause you to feel faint or dizzy.
TREATING SEVERE SUNBURN
Severe sunburn can get as serious as a second degree burn. Your skin turns bright red, feels as if it is being pulled tight, and may swell or form blisters (which can eventually lead to infection). The slightest movement will give you sharp pains because your skin is extremely sensitive, so you can forget about participating in any boisterous seaside activities. You will probably also have to wear loose, soft clothing to avoid friction between the fabric and your skin, which will be excruciating.
The important thing to remember here is that self-medicating will only get you so far: once you realize that the situation is beyond your control, visit the nearest medical facility. But before that, you can relieve some of the pain by following these steps.
Try a cool bath.
Fill your bathtub with cold but not icy water and soak yourself for a while. If you plan to take a shower, make sure that the force of the water isn’t very strong, as this may be painful on your tender skin. Avoid using soap, or at least ones that are perfumed, to prevent further irritation. This Wikihow.com article on proper sunburn treatment says that you can also try bathing in green tea, which minimizes the redness of the burn and at least some of the pain.
Take an analgesic.
Pain relievers such as Advil, Tylenol, or Ponstan will give you temporary relief from the throbbing and swelling of severe sunburns, as well as the headaches and even slight fevers that may accompany them. Depending on the dosage, most painkillers can be ingested every four to six hours to sustain your comfort level.
Apply a topical anesthetic.
Hydrocortisone cream can reduce inflammation in sunburns, as well as prevent itching. This Wikihow.com article mentions that anesthetic sprays containing lidocane can also alleviate unbearable burning sensations.
Examine yourself for blisters.
A surefire sign that your sunburn has taken a turn for the worse is the appearance of blisters, or small, stinging pockets of fluid that protrude from the skin. When your sunburn gives you blisters, this means that your skin has sustained considerable sun damage and may be infected.
This eHow.com guide gives you a step-by-step process for treating sunburn blisters. Do not try to “pop” or lance the blisters—instead, medicate them with anesthetic sprays and antibacterial ointment to prevent further contamination. Soon, your blisters will burst on their own—when they do, wash them gently with clean water and continue to apply the antibacterial balm. If your blisters seem to be infected, seek medical attention.
Note hazardous swelling.
Another thing to watch out for with severe sunburns is extreme swelling. This About.com article says that bad burns on the neck and face can sometimes swell up so much that you will find it hard to breathe. Again, if this happens, seek immediate medical assistance.
See a doctor.
Whether or not your super sunburn persists, it is always best to get a professional opinion. Make an appointment with a dermatologist or your family doctor so your burns can be properly diagnosed. You never know what might happen, so play it safe!
(Photo of girl in red bikini and hat by Ocs Alvarez; photo from The Heartbreak Kid courtesy of DreamWorks Pictures)