A common summer ailment
Few summer ailments are as common as sunburns.
If you or your kids get a sunburn, here are some simple steps you can take to stop the burning and promote healing.
You don’t need to buy a bunch of special or expensive products. The important steps are to stop the burning, treat the pain, and stay hydrated.
Sunscreen—Prevention is key
Use sunscreen! The American Academy of Dermatology says we don’t use nearly enough to be effective. It should be applied at least 30 minutes before going out in the sun, and then re-applied every two hours.
Related post: How to choose the best sunscreen
The AAD suggests filling a shot glass with sunscreen to get a rough idea of how much you should apply (that’s about one ounce).
So whether you prefer lotion or spray, buy whatever is least expensive and use A LOT of it. As long as it is SPF 30 and offers both UVA and UVB protection, it will work. Higher SPFs (50 or 75) only offer about 1% more protection and aren’t worth spending more.
Wear sunglasses, too, that provide UVA and UVB protection, and use a SPF 30 lip balm. The delicate skin of your eyes and lips burns very easily.
First Aid Do’s for Treating Sunburns
- Stop the burning. Whether a sunburn is mild (pink and stinging) or severe (red, blistered and painful), you need to stop the burning. Skin retains heat. Get out of the sun and cool the body part with cool, running water. Stand in a shower or use a hose if the burn covers a large area. Run the water for about 15 minutes.
- Apply cool compresses. Wet a cloth with cool water and apply cool compresses to the affected body part. Re-wet the cloth every few minutes. Use these several times a day, for 15 minutes at a time, as long as it provides some relief. Use an ice pack, too, if that helps, but don’t put it directly on the skin. Wrap it in a cloth.
- Take a cool bath. Fill the tub with tepid water and soak for 15 minutes.
- Stay hydrated. Drink a variety of fluids (caffeine and alcohol don’t count) throughout the next few days to counteract any dehydration.
- Take pain relievers. Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen, whichever you prefer, as directed.
- Moisturize. Apply a good moisturizer, or an aloe vera cream or gel, to relieve pain and speed up healing.
- Rest. And stay out of the sun. Even after it starts healing, recently burned skin is much more vulnerable to sunburn.
First Aid Don’t’s for Treating Sunburns
- Don’t pop blisters. Breaking blisters will increase the risk of infection.
- Don’t use soap. Avoid washing the affected area with soap until it’s well healed. Soap dries the skin and will increase the discomfort.
- Don’t use topical anesthetics. These topicals, like Solarcaine, provide temporary relief, but often cause skin reactions that will increase the pain and redness.
A bad sunburn can be really painful, but these simple home treatments should have you on the path to feeling better pretty quickly.
This post has been updated since its original publication in 2013.