You slathered sunscreen before heading outdoors but accidentally missed covering your entire arms. In addition, you forgot to reapply it in the time you spent outside. Therefore, you got sunburned.
Here is what you need to know to treat a sunburn and find relief.
More than one-third of adults and nearly 70% of children admit they've gotten sunburned within the past year, according to the CDC.
Risk factors for sunburn include:
- Having light skin, blue eyes, and red or blond hair.
- Living or vacationing somewhere sunny, warm or at high altitude.
- Working outdoors.
- Mixing outdoor recreation and drinking alcohol.
- Having a history of sunburn.
- Regularly exposing unprotected skin to UV light from sunlight or artificial sources, such as tanning beds.
- Taking a drug that makes you more likely to burn (photosensitizing medications).
A sunburn is the skin’s response to extreme ultraviolet (UV) exposure. It might not be immediately apparent, however, the first indication of damage is redness, and it hurts. This is the result of dilating blood vessels.
The skin will then start to lose moisture and hydration, the skin cells with thicken and produce melanin (the dark pigment in the outer layer of skin that gives your skin its normal color).
Symptoms usually start about 4 hours after exposure to the sun, and can worsen in 24–36 hours, but resolve in 3-5 days. Symptoms may include:
- Red, warm, and tender skin
- Swollen skin
Why does the skin peel?
Skin peeling is the body’s way of getting rid of the damaged cells that are at risk of becoming cancerous. Peeling and itching usually begins 3-8 days after exposure.
You have a sunburn, what should you do?
- Get out of the sun immediately.
- Drink plenty of water to help to replace the loss of fluid, and soothe burns with cool baths or by gently applying cool, wet cloths.
- Take aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to relieve pain, headache, and fever.
- Apply a soothing after-sun gel to red areas and then stay out of the sun and the heat.
It is not OK to go back into the sun until the burn has healed. Remember, irreparable damage may have occurred in the form of premature aging or skin cancer that may only reveal itself later.
If skin blisters
- Lightly bandage or cover the area with gauze to prevent infection.
- Do not break blisters as this could slow healing and increase risk of infection.
- Apply an antiseptic ointment if blisters break.
You may be able to treat the sunburn yourself. However, seek help from a medical practitioner if any of these signs occur:
- Severe sunburn, especially if it covers more than 15% of the body.
- Dehydration (Dry mouth, thirst, reduced urination, dizziness, and fatigue)
- High fever (above 101°F)
- Extreme pain that lasts more than 48 hours.