Sunburns — they happen to the best of us. Sometimes, you get so caught up in enjoying your fun-in-the-sun time that you forget to reapply, or maybe you just didn't put the right amount on the first time. In any case, may we suggest you take a peek at our ultimate guide to sunscreen?
Whatever the reason for your tomato-red visage, the fact remains that scorched skin just plain blows. "Typically, sunburn causes the skin to become red and sensitive, but depending on the degree of the burn, it can also cause blisters and/or swelling," says skin-care expert Renee Rouleau. "Exposure to the sun is the number-one cause of aging, so while a sunburn may only last for a few days, the DNA damage it causes to skin will last forever."
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to cool down your blazin' bod and speed up the healing process. According to experts, your main goals should be to keep your body cool, your skin moist, and to minimize inflammation.
To cool down, Rouleau says to soak in a tub of lukewarm water and add six cups of cold milk to it. This will help lower your body temperature and soothe your skin, she says. Dermatologist Dr. Diane Berson suggests taking an oatmeal bath, while Dr. Doris Day recommends a cold compress. Additionally, Rouleau says you should drink lots of water because "your body loses fluids when your body is overheated, so it’s important to drink cold ice water to keep the temperature of the body down and internally hydrate." Get a little too much sizzle on your scalp? Wash your strands in extra-cool water to get some relief and avoid tugging the hair or pulling it up into a ponytail, which will only irritate the skin more.
Speaking of hydration, once you've finished with the cooling down, you need to get some lotion on that crispy skin pronto. Dr. Day suggests using an aloe or moisturizing cream, while Rouleau prefers a lightweight lotion containing antioxidants. "Because sunburn is the ultimate sign of free radical-induced inflammation and skin damage, it may help to lessen the damage that is occurring deep within the skin and encourage repair," she says. Try Korres Yoghurt Cooling Gel, Burt's Bees Aloe & Linden Flower After Sun Soother, or Renee Rouleau Vitamin C & E Treatment. Also, avoid any products with alcohol, as they will sting like a mother.
Rouleau also says you need to avoid over-moisturizing the skin, as that could actually make things worse. "Many people want to apply lotion hourly in an effort to moisturize and heal the skin, but if you apply too much lotion, the heavy oils in the lotion can create a barrier and trap heat in the skin, keeping it red longer. It’s important to let the skin breathe," she says.
Since a sunburn will cause some massive inflammation, both doctors suggest popping an aspirin or Tylenol to bring down swelling. Rouleau says that a homemade mask of plain yogurt can also work wonders on inflammation — just slather it on and leave it for 15 minutes, then rinse with cool water. Repeat every hour, as needed.
While you can't stop peeling from happening, Dr. Day says you can lessen the intensity by using a 1% hydrocortisone cream. Whatever you do though, don't pick at those scaly patches: "A sunburn has already caused enough damage, and the worst thing you can do is start to peel off layers of skin — especially those that are not yet ready to come off," says Rouleau. "You can scar the skin, so just let it shed naturally. After a week, you can gently rub the skin on the body with a light exfoliator to help remove some of the flakiness."