What to do if you get a sunburn Image by: getty Images
We do the best we can, but sometimes even the most diligent get sunburned. Here are tips for healing your skin and the products that will help.
If you've heard us say it once, you’ve heard us say it a thousand times—wear sunscreen! But, we know even the most diligent sunscreen users can make mistakes from time to time. Even—gasp—us beauty editors have been known to get red shoulders sometimes. So, if you have accidentally gotten sunburned, we have a few tips that can help with the recovery process.
We spoke to New York-based dermatologist Dr. Kavita Mariwalla about the best post-sunburn ingredients and practices so your skin’s transition to red, angry and peeling is short lived.
First off, get out of the sun
“Sunburns happen in a delayed fashion,” says Dr. Mariwalla. “It’s about an eight-to-ten hour lag.” So if you’re in the sun but you don’t see a sunburn, that doesn’t mean you won’t. Be proactive about protecting your skin, even if it isn’t red yet. “If you’re out in the sun and you do see that you’re sunburned, it’s only going to get worse as time goes on,” says Dr. Mariwalla. So, the first thing you need to do if you think you might be getting a sunburn, or you can see that your skin is visibly burned, is to get out of the sun.
Get the heat out of your skin
Your next step is to cool down—but we’re not talking about jumping in the water. Getting the heat out of the burn is necessary so that you don’t keep burning. This is the step where a cold compress can really help.
Add healing skin care
To help the healing process get started right away, you’ll want to make sure you put a balm or cream on the affected area. But pay close attention to the ingredients you slather on. Avoid anything petroleum-based or old-wives-tale-style advice and stick to trusted ingredients like aloe and Manuka honey.
“The thing that’s really good about Manuka honey is that it is very anti-bacterial and can treat a wound,” says Dr. Mariwalla. Manuka honey also maintains a moist wound environment (which is great for preventing blisters), prevents infection and adds a protective barrier.
You already know that aloe is good for burns. That’s because it’s super cooling so you immediately feel relief. “The nice thing about aloe is that it has natural stabilizers in it to help reduce pain, says Dr. Mariwalla, “and it also has magnesium lactate which can stop itching that happens with a sunburn.”
Avoid blisters and breaking the skin
As much as possible you want to avoid blisters or any breaking of the skin. “In its most basic form, a sunburn is really a radiation burn,” says Dr. Mariwalla. “So you want to do things that heal the skin really quickly if possible.” Blistering is always worse for the skin in cases of sunburn, so trying to keep the skin intact is best. Why? “The blistered area could become infected and the blisters can pop and can cause scarring of hypopigmentation.” Says Dr. Mariwalla. Not to mention that open wounds take longer to heal.
Take an oral anti-inflammatory
Yes, taking an aspirin or something with Ibuprofen can actually help your sunburn. Just remember to follow the instructions or talk to your doctor if you’re unsure.
What to do in the aftermath
Treating a sunburn isn’t a one-time, day-of thing. A sunburn can take upwards of a week to heal, so you need to be consistent with your treatment. “In the days that follow your sunburn episode, you want to make sure you’re using good anti-oxidants to make sure you’re really trying to repair the damage—be consistent,” says Dr. Mariwalla. As long as the skin isn’t broken, this means you can use antioxidants like vitamin C, green tea and niacinamide. It’s also a good idea to wear loose clothing that won’t irritate your skin more and to never exfoliate a sunburn. “You don’t want to help any peeling along,” says Dr. Mariwalla. Let your skin peel naturally if it’s going to and stay away from any exfoliating ingredients. Also, remember that even when the area is healed, it will be more prone to sunburn going forward in the season. So make sure to use extra protection.
Prepare for the future
“Sunburns usually happen when you least expect it and when you’re not prepared,” says Dr. Mariwalla. She recommends finding a sunscreen you love and keeping multiple bottles of it wherever you might find you need it. At home, in the car, at work or in your purse—make sure to have a bottle around for when you find yourself unexpectedly outside.