How to treat sunburns the right way

How do you treat a sunburn fast?

The best thing would be not to get one at all, but that doesn’t always work out. I learned the lesson the hard way…

“Gio, stay in the shade. And don’t take off your hat again!,” my mum said, as she put the damn thing on my head again.

I hated that hat. It was an old, ugly red and blue thing that had obviously seen better days. None of my friends had to wear anything like that. Heck, they didn’t have to wear anything at all.

So, when my mum wasn’t looking, I’d dump it somewhere. Anywhere. It’s not like anything bad had ever happened. Sure, if my mum found out, she’d scold me, but mums always scold you. It’s their job.

Then, one day, my friend asked me why I looked like a lobster. “Your face is all red,” he said. I thought he was being annoying, like young boys often are.

But, then, my face started to hurt. My skin began to peel. Ouch! I ran to my mum, who told me I had just got a sunburn. A sunburn?! While playing in a friend’s garden?! Wasn’t that something you only got at the beach?

“A sunburn can happen anytime you spend too much time in the sun without protection,” my mum explains. “You haven’t been wearing your hat, have you?”

Sure, a hat doesn’t protect you as well as sunscreen does, but who the heck wore sunscreen anywhere but the beach in the 80s? And a hat would have helped somewhat. Mums do know best.

Anyway, the damage was done. A good scolding – and trust me, I got one – wouldn’t fix it. Here’s everything you need to know about how to treat a sunburn and relieve the pain fast:

What Is A Sunburn?

First things first: what is a sunburn?

A sunburn is hot, red, and sore skin caused by too much unprotected sun exposure. After a few days, it starts to flake and peel, too.

A sunburn isn’t the same as as when you burn your skin on something’s hot. It’s ultraviolet radiation, not heat, that does the damage and gives you a sunburn.

Related: Take A Number: How To Choose The Right SPF For You

How effective is your sunscreen? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Sunscreen Audit” Worksheet and find out if your sunscreen is really up to the job:

Sunburn Symptoms: What Are They?

Think you’re getting a sunburn? Here are the common symptoms:

  • Redness
  • Skin feels hot to the touch
  • Pain
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Small fluid-filled blisters
  • Headache, fever, nausea and fatigue (if the sunburn is severe)

Symptoms of sunburns usually appear within a few hours after unprotected sun exposure. But it may take a day or two to determine its severity.

After a few days, your skin starts to peel it too. It’s your body’s way of getting rid of damaged skin. Do NOT pick at it!

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What Causes A Sunburn?

You get a sunburn when you spend too much time in the sun without sunscreen.

When ultraviolet radiation from the sun hits bare skin, it damages skin cells, causing mutations in their DNA. That’s why you need sunscreen. It prevents most of this damage (when used the right way).

All ultraviolet radiation is bad for skin. But when it comes to sunburns, it’s UVB rays that do the damage.

Your body has a self-defence, in-build sunscreen mechanism to prevent sun damage. It’s called tanning. Yep, whenever your skin starts to get a little darker, it’s a sign your skin cells are getting damaged. You need to get out of the sun, pronto.

But this self-defence mechanism isn’t foolproof (and not just because us humans stupidly mistake tanning as a good thing – it’s NOT).

When your skin gets more sun exposure than it can handle, the damage is so severe, it can’t be repaired. There’s only one way out: the damaged cells die off.

Blood vessels dilate to increase blood flow and deliver immune cells to the damaged area, where they can clean up the mess. Cue swelling, redness, and inflammation – all the usual signs of sunburns.

The sunburn eventually heals on its own. But some of the mutated cells survive and may turn into cancer later on. Don’t risk it! Wear sunscreen.

Related: What’s The Difference Between UVA And UVB Rays?

How To Treat A Sunburn

A sunburn may heal on its own, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer in silence in the meantime. There are many things you can do to relieve sunburn pain.

Here’s how to treat a sunburn fast:

  1. Stay away from the sun: This is a given. The damage’s done, so don’t make it worse. If you must go out, wear loose -fitting clothes that won’t irritate your skin.
  2. Use a moisturiser with Aloe Vera: Aloe Vera has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce inflammation, redness, and itching.
  3. Take an antinflammatory: Aspirin or ibuprophen stop the inflammation and relieve sunburn pain.
  4. Don’t peel off skin: And don’t pop blisters, either. It only causes more damage. FIY, those blisters are there to protect the sensitive layers of skin underneath.
  5. Shower with lukewarm water. If you use hot water, you’ll burn off more skin.
  6. Drink plenty of water. A sunburn can dehydrate your body. Keep the water coming in!
  7. Visit your doctor:  If you get open wounds or extensive skin damage, go immediately.

Related: Can Aloe Vera Treat Sunburns, Acne, And Stretch Marks?