How to treat sunburn

Whether you’ve accidentally forgotten to apply SPF while out and about, or indulged in a cheeky tanning session in the sun (despite that we know there is technically no safe way to tan), few of us are strangers to sunburnt skin.

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Sunburn is no joke and can be seriously painful, not to mention dangerous for our health (did you know just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life?).

Nevertheless, it happens to the best of us and we’ve all been caught out in the sun without sunscreen, so it’s key to know how best to deal with sunburn when you have it. We asked skincare expert Susie Bridgeman-Sutton from Thunderbird Skin exactly how to treat sunburn.

How to treat sunburn

Get out of the sun

Susie says the first thing do when you notice you are sunburnt is to get out of the sun. ‘Remove any close-fitting clothes and cool your skin,’ she says. ‘Contrary to popular belief, cool to tepid water is the best option and ice should be avoided. A bath with oatmeal and a few spoons of baking soda can help cool the skin as well as relieve itching. Whether it’s a bath, shower or cold compresses, aim to use a method to cool your skin several times a day.

‘If you are sunburnt, you are almost certainly dehydrated. Make a concerted effort to up your water intake during this time.’

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Take an anti-inflammatory

The next step in how to treat sunburn is that you should take an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, naproxen or aspirin to help bring down any inflammation and discomfort.

‘You want to control moisture loss as much as possible, so applying an alcohol-free cooling cream a few times a day is key. We recommend keeping aftersun products in the fridge so it’s extra soothing when applied. Oral antihistamines can also help control the itch during the healing process.’

Try to avoid make-up

‘Be just as kind and patient to your face as you would with the skin in a less conspicuous area. Now is probably not the time to try to hide sunburn with large amounts of makeup and it’s a good time to skip the retinol and exfoliants.’

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Avoid the vaseline

Susie says that heavy, petroleum-based emollients like Vaseline and Sudocrem are best avoided as they won’t allow your skin to breathe and will instead hold heat in, which can in turn make your sunburn worse.

And don’t even think about exfoliating. ‘This is the time to skip this. It will not hasten repair and can in fact worsen your burn. Moisturise generously and be patient.’

Also: ‘Don’t pick! Again, moisturise generously and allow the damaged skin to slough off naturally.’

Remember: you can burn on a cloudy day

A myth about sunburn is that you can’t burn if it’s cloudy, but Susie says this just isn’t true. ‘The UV rays are just as present on a cloudy day as a sunny one.’

Susie also says it’s important to remember that ‘Sunscreen is not once and done. You need to reapply several times a day to keep the effectiveness. This is especially important after swimming or sweating, even with a waterproof sunscreen.’

For particularly severe burns

‘You may need to involve your doctor or physician. Severe sunburn creates the perfect conditions for an infection to set in and when the skin is this compromised, it can go from bad to worse very quickly. Professional intervention would then be called for.’