Prevention & Recovery

How to prevent and treat a sunburn

By: Alexandra Ward

© Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©

Prevention & Recovery

How to prevent and treat a sunburn

By: Alexandra Ward
After a long winter it's only natural to want to get outside to bask in the warmth of the sun. Unfortunately, this instinct doesn't always involve considering how to best protect your skin from the sun's harsh rays. As a result, you may end up causing permanent damage to your skin, increasing your risk of melanoma and aging your skin prematurely.

In an ideal world nobody would get sunburned -- but if you do, here are four tips on how to treat sunburn.

How to treat a sunburn
1. If you have been burned, get out of -- and stay out of -- the sun. "Be careful of the sun after you have a sunburn," says Dr. Nowell Solish, a Toronto-based dermatologist. "The skin is very prone to burning again because it is brand new."

2. Take something for the pain. "The best thing is Aspirin [acetylsalicylic acid]," says Solish. "If you can't take Aspirin, take ibuprofen. That will reduce the inflammation of the sunburn. It will hurt less, but it will also stop the sunburn from progressing," he explains.

3. Stay hydrated. Solish recommends keeping the sunburn cool with the use of a cold compress and a cool bath or shower. Also, be sure to drink lots of water as if you're sunburned, you're likely also dehydrated.

4. Moisturize your skin, says Dr. Anne Curtis, a clinical dermatologist at University Health Network, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Women's College Hospital in Toronto. "You've damaged the skin, and various anti-burn things and creams, they're not undoing the damage, they're just making it feel better while the body does the repair," she explains.

Unfortunately, the damage your skin sustains from a sunburn can't be reversed, so your best course of action is preventing sunburn altogether.

How to prevent sunburn

The most important thing you can do to avoid getting sunburn is wearing sunscreen, says Curtis. She recommends a minimum of SPF 60. Make sure that the sunscreen you buy has the Canadian Dermatology Association logo on it, which ensures the sunscreen offers both UVA and UVB protection. Both Solish and Curtis recommend La Roche-Posay and Neutrogena–brand sunscreens.

Page 1 of 2 -- Learn how to properly apply your sunscreen on page 2
Apply, apply, apply
One of the main reasons people get sunburned is because they're not applying their sunscreen properly. Make sure to apply your sunscreen 30 minutes before you leave your home every day, even in the winter. And remember to reapply sunscreen every three to four hours.

Solish also emphasizes the importance of reapplying sunscreen after you go swimming: "We always say: After you swim and dry, reapply," he explains.

If you tend to be forgetful, Solish recommends applying sunscreen after you shower in the morning. Your sunscreen should always go on first, before applying any moisturizer or makeup.

Another common application error is skimping on the amount of sunscreen you apply. "Apply a generous amount," says Solish. "A really thin, uneven layer isn't going to work." If you don't apply sunscreen liberally you won't get the full protection you're expecting. Also remember to cover all of your exposed areas! Areas of the body that are often missed during sunscreen application are the ears, nose, neck and chest.

Take extra precautions
Curtis recommends that additional precautions be taken if you plan to be out in the sun for an extended period of time. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and protective clothing and staying in the shade are additional steps that you can take to avoid sunburn. "If you're particularly anxious, stay out of the sun from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.," she says. "If you're going to take precautions, then you can still be outside. You just have to be aware that you need to be more careful," she explains.

Remember, "one blistering sunburn doubles the risk of melanoma in a person," warns Solish. So the next time you consider skipping your sunscreen on a hazy day -- think again.

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Prevention & Recovery

How to prevent and treat a sunburn