If you have the complexion of boiled lobster and you’re in significant pain, take aspirin, ibuprofen, or some other over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug to reduce the swelling and relieve the pain. And of course, do what you’d do for any other type of burn: Cool it with cold water to stop the sizzle. You may also want to use one of the sunburn sprays, sold in the drugstore, that contain numbing ingredients. Finally, make sure to learn your lesson and remember to wear sunscreen next time you venture out into the sun.
The outer layers of your skin have become inflamed by overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. With a first-degree burn, the skin may be hot and tender as well. Small, fluid-filled blisters indicate second-degree sunburn. Worst of all are third-degree burns, which cause blistering, red or purple skin discoloration, chills, fever, nausea, and headache. With repeated severe sunburns, your skin ages more rapidly, and risk of skin cancer increases. Fair-haired people with light skin are more at risk for sunburn, as are those who take certain medications such as sulfa drugs, some antibiotics, and oral diabetes medications.
- For immediate relief, soak the sunburned areas in cold water (but not ice water) or with cold compresses for 15 minutes. The cold reduces swelling and wicks away heat from your skin.
- If you’re burned all over, take a soak in a cool bath to which you’ve added oatmeal. You can either buy a colloidal oatmeal product such as Aveeno or simply grind up a cup of oatmeal in a food processor and add it to your bath.
- Brew up a pot of green tea and let it cool. Soak a clean cloth in the tea, and use it as a compress. The tea contains ingredients that help protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation damage and reduce inflammation.
- Use the cooling, aromatic qualities of peppermint to quell the scorch of a sunburn. Either make peppermint tea or mix two drops of peppermint oil with a cup of lukewarm water. Chill the concoction and gently bathe the burned area.
- For extra-painful spots of sunburn, rub the area gently with sliced cucumber or potato. They contain compounds that cool the burn and help reduce swelling.
- Vinegar contains acetic acid — one of the components of aspirin. It can help ease sunburn pain, itching, and inflammation. Soak a few sheets of paper towels in white vinegar, and apply them to the burned areas. Leave them on until the towels are dry. Repeat as needed.
- If the sunburn itches, take a cool bath, but add 2 cups of vinegar to the bathwater before you get in.
Put On a Coating
Should I Call the Doctor?
Most sunburns are first-degree burns. The pain will ease in one to four days. But call the doctor if your sunburned skin starts to blister, you run a fever or develop chills or nausea, or if the pain becomes unbearable.
The Power of Prevention
Always slather your skin with a sunscreen that contains a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. Insist that your loved ones do the same.
Between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., limit your exposure to the sun. This is when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
If you burn easily or have been diagnosed with skin cancer in the past, take no chances: Cover up in the sun. That means long pants, long sleeves, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses.