Soothing a Sunburn, A Definitive Guide

Particularly those with medium to fair skin, sunburns occur at one time or another. No one intentionally tries to get sunburned, but it sneaks up quickly and can be very painful and damaging to the skin.

Why Do Sunburns Occur?

  • Not Wearing Sunscreen: People think when it’s an overcast day, they are not at risk for potential sunburn. False! The burning UVB rays can penetrate through clouds and still put your skin at risk for sunburn. Also, when temperatures are cool, like on a fall day, people think the sun isn’t strong and sunscreen is not necessary. Wrong! The temperature outside is not an indication of how strong or weak the sun rays are…
  • Not Re-applying Sunscreen: It wears off, sweats off and washes off so sunscreen must be applied every 2 hours.
  • Not Applying Enough Sunscreen: Most people don’t apply their sunscreen generously enough to get full protection. Applying SPF 30 sparingly may only give you SPF of 5 or less.

Made one of the above mistakes and now you’re suffering with a red, sore sunburn?

Tips for soothing the skin:

-Drink Cold Water: Since your body loses fluids when it’s overheated, it’s important to drink cold ice water to keep the temperature of the body down and internally hydrated.

-Get Milk: Soak in the tub with lukewarm to cool water mixed with six cups of whole milk. This is helpful to lower the internal body temperature because the milk (due to the fat, protein and pH) can have an anti-inflammatory effect and provide comfort to tight, burned skin.

-Apply a Cooling Gel Mask: The goal of treating sunburn is to decrease pain and remove heat from within the skin, so using a thick coat of a cooling gel-based mask on the skin to lower the dermis’ temperature and bring water to thirsty cells can bring some relief. Place the mask in the refrigerator 30 minutes before use to increase the cooling benefits. If you don’t have a gel mask, applying a thick coat of store-bought natural aloe vera gel (be sure to refrigerate for 30 minutes first) can be helpful. However, keep in mind that, while aloe is a good healing ingredient, many aloe products contain synthetic dyes and fragrance, which can further irritate already sensitive skin. Be sure it’s dye-free and fragrance free. I personally prefer to have a cocktail of ingredients, which more than likely will be found in a mask, to soothe sunburn. Apply a gel mask or aloe vera gel to the skin, let dry for 15 minutes and rinse. Repeat every three hours.

-Apply a Lightweight Skin Oil with Antioxidants: After rinsing off a gel mask, I recommend applying a treatment oil that contains antioxidants because sunburn is the ultimate sign of free radical-induced inflammation and skin damage. Using antioxidants topically may help encourage the repair that is occurring deep within the skin. Types of oils to look for include pomegranate seed oil, cranberry oil and rosehip oil. Another benefit of using a skin oil is to bring soothing relief. Since the skin has been essentially “fried,” it is extremely stiff and with every move you make, the tight skin gets pulled and creates pain. An oil will effectively lubricate the skin to lessen the tug and pull effect. Apply a few drops of a reparative, vitamin-packed skin oil post-mask to provide multi-benefits as well as some welcome relief.

-If you don’t have a gel mask, apply cold plain yogurt. When applied to skin, it works as an anti-inflammatory to reduce heat and irritation. Apply, let dry for 15 minutes, and rinse. Repeat every hour.

-Don’t Over Moisturize: Many people want to excessively apply lotion in an effort to moisturize and heal the skin, but if you apply too much lotion, the heavy layers may create a barrier and trap heat in the skin, keeping it red longer. I prefer just a very thin coat of a skin oil. If you’re using lotion, be sure to use a thin one.

-Be Patient and Give Time to Heal: For most mild to moderate sunburns, it takes 3-4 days for redness to subside.

-If Skin Peels, Don’t Pick: The natural healing process of sunburn is for the skin to peel starting a few days after a burn. The sunburn has already caused enough damage so the worst thing you can do is start to peel off layers of skin—especially those that are not yet ready to come off. You can scar the skin by doing this, so just let the skin shed naturally. After a week, you can gently rub the skin on the body lightly with a soft loofah to help remove some of the surface flakiness.

– Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Again: I can’t tell you how many times I hear from clients, “I applied sunscreen and I still got burned. I even used an SPF 100!” Sunscreen is not so much about the number (although I recommend a minimum of SPF 30), but how generously and how often you apply it. Think about what you may have not done correctly the next time you’re outdoors. Always wear sunscreen, even it it’s an overcast day. Reapply a thick coat every two hours when spending a lot of time outside. Skin is very vulnerable and needs to stay protected. Once you get sunburned, no amount of sunscreen can stop the burn from appearing. Get out of the sun right away!

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