How to: recover from sunburn

We all know we should apply sunscreen.

And most of the time, we do – but occasionally, we’re all guilty of forgetting to top up after several hours in the sun, we fail to reapply after a long swim at the pool, or we don’t have time to lather it on because we’re already late for work.

Sunburn usually only lasts for a week, but when that week takes up a good chunk of your summer holiday, it can feel like it lasts forever!

It’s not easy to speed up sunburn recovery, but there’s plenty you can do to a) reduce the pain, b) limit redness, and c) prevent nasty infections that hold back the recovery process.

Here’s how it’s done.

ASAP

Much like burns you get in the kitchen, the sooner you can take action to soothe your sunburn, the better. As soon as you realise you’ve got sunburnt, get out of the sun, reapply sunscreen and cover up. This’ll prevent your sunburn from getting any worse, and start the recovery process.

You could also take some anti-inflammatory medication (like ibuprofen) to reduce redness – be sure to check the leaflet that comes with the medication first.

Keep it cool

As soon as you can, head back inside and take a cold bath or shower. Alternatively, use a sponge or cold flannel to soothe the worst of the sunburn and reduce pain! Aim to cool down your skin as much as possible, particularly in the initial 24 hours after the sunburn occurs.

Drink more water than you usually do to avoid dehydration and help rejuvenate your skin.

Moisturise – but be careful…

Moisturising sunburnt skin prevents it from drying out further, and strengthens damaged skin so that you’re less prone to infections, redness, and more irritation. Apply moisturiser frequently! Always use a gentle, unscented moisturiser  – fragrances and the like can aggravate your skin further and hold back the healing process.

Keep applying gentle moisturiser when your skin starts to flake and peel, as it’s still vulnerable.

The NHS recommends using aloe vera based lotions when you’re sunburnt. You can also grab hydrocortisone cream from the pharmacist to further reduce inflammation.

What to avoid

Sand, chlorine, and salt water are all going to aggravate your sunburn and increase the chance your damaged skin gets infected (look out for red streaks and pus – yuck! – as telltale signs you have an infection). Try to wear loose clothing so that blood flow to your skin is unrestricted. This’ll speed up the healing process and also reduce redness.  Also, remember that hot water can make sunburn worse – so avoid hot showers until your skin has almost completely recovered.

It’s also a good idea to scale back your usual skincare and makeup routines as these products may irritate your skin.

Finally, avoid popping any blisters that appear! They’re there to protect your skin from further damage – let them do their job.

See your GP

If you have a fever, chills, or feel dizzy when you get sunburnt, contact your GP. They’ll help you get the dressings and medication you need to recover from your severe sunburn.

There’s no doubt that sunburn can be serious – but preventing it is easier (and less painful!) than the recovery process. Stock up on sunscreen and other SPF products before heading the beach to stay protected!

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