Since summer is on its way and I’ve never seen a post addressing this, I thought it might be good to make one. I know it seems basic, but some of the common knowledge surrounding sunburn care is actually incorrect!
Now, I’m not a doctor and my advice is not a replacement for medical care, but you guys already knew that.
I know that you’ve heard it before, but this is genuinely so important. Everyone should wear sunscreen for protection, but if you have fair skin prone to burning, then you’re in even greater danger of suffering. Please keep yourself safe.
Sunblock and sunscreen are actually two different things. Sunblock generally provides a greater degree of protection. Sunscreen breaks down more quickly through exposure to the sun, so it usually needs to be reapplied more frequently, however both sunblock and sunscreen must be reapplied.
The general rule is to reapply every two hours, or every hour if you are in a situation where you are sweating heavily, swimming, or otherwise getting wet. There is actually no such thing as water-proof sunscreen, although some brands make the claim. Usually they are water resistant for anywhere between 40 and 80 minutes. Reapplying is key.
Just doing the above things will go a long way toward protecting you. We don’t live in a perfect world, though, so chances are you’re going to get burned at some point, maybe even badly. If that happens, you should know how to take care of it.
I want you to know that sunburns can sometimes be very serious. I have had sunburns so severe that I required emergency care in the form of professional medical intervention. If you feel as though you have been burned so badly that you cannot safely care for it on your own, you are not imagining it or being dramatic in any way. I required several steroid injections, as well as antibiotics and prescription pain killers to recover from my worst sunburn. Do not hesitate to seek medical attention if you need it.
You have a sunburn and you’ve determined that you don’t need to go to the emergency room, so you’ll be caring for it at home. Awesome!
The most important part of sunburn care is knowing that sunburns are exactly what the name implies. They are burns. This means that you should treat them in much the same way that you would treat a burn of any other variety.
The first thing you need to do is draw the heat out. Have you ever touched your sunburned skin and realized it was much warmer than the rest of you? That’s the problem you want to address first. As long as that heat remains, your skin is still actively burning. Your sunburn will continue to get worse for as long as the heat remains.
To draw the heat out, soak in a bath or step into a shower of lukewarm water, or water that feels as if it is neither cold nor warm when it passes over your hand/wrist. This is important. Do not use water on the coldest setting. Do not use ice packs or buckets of frigid ice water or any other freezing thing that wikihow recommended. This will damage your skin further. This is a mistake that I have made in the past. It is terrible. Please, please, please learn from my ignorance.
Depending on the severity of your burn, you may need to remain under the cool water for quite a long time. I once had to soak for something like four hours to draw the heat out of a bad burn. You want the burn to be the same temperature as the rest of your skin by the time you’re done. Prepare for an extended soak by bringing music, books, whatever you need to keep yourself entertained.
The same effect can be achieved by using towels soaked in cool water on the burned skin, but this is messy and takes much longer, as the towels must be resoaked in water and reapplied every few minutes. The presence of heavy cloth on the damaged skin can also cause irritation and pain.
There are several products on the market which are sold for the purpose of treating sunburns, many of them are even genuinely helpful, but they should never be applied before you have cooled the burned skin. If you apply heavy creams, lotions, or even straight aloe before the heat has been removed from the burn, you are trapping the heat to the skin and worsening the burn. Please don’t do this.
Once you have soaked in cool water and the burn no longer feels hot to the touch, apply the sunburn cream of your choice. These are not strictly necessary, but they will help to manage the pain and dryness that follows. I often use aloe or coconut oil on mine.
A few extras:
Outside of the obvious pain and discomfort, sunburns can also cause headaches, fatigue, and body aches/chills, as well as dehydration. Don’t be surprised if you experience these other effects. You can treat any aches with an over the counter pain killer such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen. You should drink a lot of water following your sunburn, as your body will need the extra help hydrating!
Alright, that’s all I have for you! Thanks for reading. Now go forth and safely own your summers, my friends! Take care <3