It's really easy to lose track of time while lying on the beach, reading a good book, relaxing, and listening to the sound of the waves crashing. It's a heavenly experience, but it can quickly turn into hell if we have too much sun. Treating sunburn is no easy task, and it can seriously affect the quality of your vacation.
We've all experienced sunburn at least once in our lifetime. It's frightening how frequently we let it happen when sunburn is one of the most harmful skin conditions with severe short-term and long-term consequences. This is why we must learn to protect the skin from the sun and use sunscreen regularly, especially in the summer. If you're interested, here are the top summer skincare tips.
But today, we'll focus exclusively on sunburns. Learn how to treat sunburned skin with these 11 effective life-saving tips.
The first thing you need to know about sunburns is why and how they happen. Have you ever wondered why our skin reacts negatively after being exposed to sunlight? Especially when we know the sun gives us that all-important vitamin D.
Not to go too science-y on you, we'll just cover the basics.
Ultraviolet light (the one we can't see) carries a lot more energy than visible light. When the high energy from the UV light strikes the skin, it damages the DNA inside our body cells by breaking the orderly bonds between the four nucleotides and throwing the whole shape of the DNA molecule out of whack.
Cells with damaged DNA go into programmed cell death or apoptosis - they start destroying themselves. It doesn't take long for our body to detect that something bad is happening and send an army of white blood cells to the area to help with the healing process. This is pretty much the time when you start to see and feel the sunburn. Your body becomes painfully inflamed, which is a part of the natural healing reaction.
If the sunburn is bad, you might even have thermal damage, just like burns caused by standing too close to a fire. As a result, liquid-filled skin blisters form over areas of tissue damage.
In a couple of days, you'll start to peel off and get rid of the cells with damaged DNA. This is actually really important. The body has a natural sensor that detects the mutated cells and triggers faster cell turnover as a protective measure because sometimes damaged cells don't die - they turn into cancer instead.
Nobody can tell you if the cells with damaged DNA will follow the natural process and die or whether they'll mutate and turn into cancer.
All we know is the more sunburns, the higher the chance of cancer.
This doesn't mean that when the burned layer of skin peels off, you're safe. No one ever knows what kind of changes the sun's rays cause, and some consequences manifest after decades. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), even one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence can nearly double a person's chance of developing melanoma. So having sunburn is no joke.
How long it takes for a sunburn to develop depends on the intensity and strength of the UV rays, the physiology, and genetics of each individual, the protection you're using (i.e., sunscreen), and how you're using it.
Typically, it takes 10-15 minutes for the skin to become visibly darker. For people with a paler complexion, those 10-15 minutes of unprotected sun exposure might lead to moderate sunburn or even very severe sunburn.
It's all in the melanin!
Melanin is a natural sunscreen. When your body senses damage, it sends melanin into surrounding cells and tries to shield them from further damage.
We all have the same amount of melanocytes, but we're different in how much and what colors of melanin we produce. Darker skin produces more melanin than lighter skin, which means darker-skinned people have more natural protection against the sun.
This doesn't mean those people can't get sunburned or that they aren't vulnerable to skin cancer. It simply means that it will take a little longer for the UV light to penetrate and damage the cells. Regardless of your skin tone, always wear sunscreen, avoid being exposed to the sun for long periods, and between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Use professional after-sun creams or creams designed for sunburned skin. You can also try out some of the most famous natural sunburn remedies. Finally, you can use other tips and tricks to help you heal even faster.
Not so long ago, we treated sunburns with cold sour milk cream. Fortunately, today you have an abundance of professional skincare products specifically formulated for sun-exposed skin.
Most after-sun creams replenish lost moisture and feed the skin with beneficial and potent antioxidative vitamins and minerals. This, in turn, boosts the skin's healing process and makes it more powerful in repairing the damage caused by the sun.
However, not everyone is on board with professional after-sun care.
For example, the skincare expert Michaella Bolder, who spoke with The Independent on the matter, says: "After-sun formulas tend to have rich, thick consistencies containing oils, which create an emollient barrier on top of the skin trapping the heat in the upper layer of the epidermis and exacerbating the inflammation and 'burn' feeling on your face."
She even advises using pure and natural aloe vera gel since it's equally, if not more, effective.
Whether you go for an after-sun cream or not, remember that you need to check the ingredients labels before buying anything. Fragrances and abrasive chemicals can do a lot more harm to your sunburn and cause complications. All-natural, gentle products are your best bet.
Here are some of our favorite home remedies. Always do a patch test before trying these out to avoid an allergic reaction or other adverse effects.
This is one of the best natural remedies for soothing burned skin, and you'll find it in almost all professional skincare products.
Aloe vera has science on its side. Many articles prove just how much this ingredient can help with the healing process of sunburn. In 2007, a systematic review of the efficacy of aloe vera used for burn wound healing found that this ingredient might be an effective intervention used in burn wound healing for first to second-degree burns.
Findings from a more recent study suggest that aloin (the ingredient extracted from aloe vera gel) effectively suppresses the inflammatory response.
This natural substance will keep your skin well-hydrated and moisturized without clogging the pores. Plus, it can reduce redness and swelling and cool down the temperature of your sunburn. It'll bring effective sunburn relief.
You can apply fresh gel and pure or over-the-counter aloe vera lotion directly to the affected area.
Oatmeal is a very popular home remedy for sunburn - and for a good reason! Oats are actually FDA-approved ingredients recognized for their healing properties. They're great for treating many skin ailments and conditions, including sunburn.
Colloidal oatmeal contains natural antimicrobial agents and anti-inflammatory properties, which work well for swelling, redness, and even blisters. They also promote new cell growth and accelerate the process of skin renewal.
Best of all? Cooked oatmeal is one of the gentlest ingredients for all skin types.
How to Use Oatmeal
Just take one cup of oats and mix them with water. Cook the oatmeal on the stove for a few minutes on a low heat. After it's done, move the paste away from the heat and let it cool off. When it's reached room temperature, apply it to the affected areas and leave it on for 20 minutes to soothe sunburned skin.
If you have a severe sunburn, try an oatmeal bath to promote healing.
If you want quick results, use baking soda to soothe the skin. This sunburn treatment is alkaline and will help restore the skin's natural pH level.
Although baking soda is promoted as a remedy for many skin problems, you need to be careful when using it. This is because its alkane property can break the natural acidic mantle of the skin, damaging the skin's protective barrier. Read our article on baking soda to learn more about when and how to use it.
Use this sunburn treatment only as a short-term solution. When sunburned, our skin is more acidic, inflamed, and swollen - something that baking soda can help with.
How to Use
Make yourself a bath, add ¼ cup of baking soda, and soak for around 15 minutes.
If you want to use this treatment only on the affected areas, mix it with 2-3 tbsp of water to form a paste and gently apply the mixture directly to the skin. Let the paste sit for 10 to 15 minutes, and then rinse.
Chamomile tea is one of the most soothing ingredients for our overall health and skin specifically. Chamomile has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and has been used as a natural remedy for rosacea. It also has potent antioxidant abilities, and can reduce pain.
One study from the official Journal of The Italian Neurological Society supported the claims of the efficacy of chamomile as pain relief in migraines without aura. Unfortunately, we still don't have direct evidence of these capacities in skin-related conditions.
Nonetheless, chamomile is also praised for its wound-healing capacities. In one double-blind trial on 14 patients, researchers found that chamomile is quite effective in wound drying and in speeding epithelialization after the dermabrasion of tattoos.
Having both potent anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties, chamomile tea is a great remedy to treat painful sunburns.
If you want to help your skin heal quickly, you can also try these tips alongside after-sun creams or home remedies.
Not cold water! Really cold water can damage the skin even more and cause complications. Instead, cool water is a quick and easy pain reliever. You can also try a cool bath, but make sure to use a mild soap.
Don't shower with hot water when you're suffering from sunburn!
Another trick is to apply a cold, wet washcloth to your burn for around 15 minutes throughout the day. You can also use ice but never apply it directly on the skin. Instead, use a towel-wrapped ice pack for the affected area.
Don't let your sunburn dry, as it's already dehydrated. A dry sunburn will create even more pain. To prevent this and help the skin heal faster, moisturize it as often as possible during the day. A popular natural moisturizer for sunburn is coconut oil, but you can use professional moisturizers, too.
Suffering from acne and sunburn? Try the Wrinkle-Free All Day Moisturizer.
Applying more skincare cosmetics on sunburn is a cardinal sin. Those cosmetics are designed to penetrate the skin and stimulate beneficial physiological processes. While your skin is already busy with healing, anything else can interfere negatively.
Drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. Feed the body from the inside out so it's more capable of handling the burns. Being well-hydrated means creating optimal conditions for proper skin function.
The last thing you want to do is to irritate your sunburn - this will only increase your pain, redness, and swelling and even create small injuries that will leave scarring. Trust us; you don't want permanent scars, premature skin aging, and a higher chance of cancer. Wear minimal comfortable clothes for a few days until the burns heal.
If you're on vacation, the most burning (pun intended) question you'll have is, "When is it safe to return to the beach?"
After healing, your skin may be extremely sensitive to sunlight and burn even more easily. Avoid further sun exposure or limit it to a minimum, wear more clothes, and stay protected! Choose a very high SPF sunscreen.
Always apply sunscreen around 30-20 minutes before going out to allow the product to absorb into your skin fully. Then, reapply sunscreen every 1-2 hours and immediately after swimming or drying yourself with a towel.
Today you can also find waterproof sunscreens that will protect you even while swimming.
There are many things you can do to relieve the pain, make the healing process go a little faster, and even prevent further complications.
But, unfortunately, you can't erase or reverse all the consequences of sun-damaged skin. This is because the effects of the sunburns you had during your teenage years manifest even 30 years later. Sun damage is the number one factor responsible for skin aging.
The best action against cancer and premature aging is to protect the skin from the sun, apply sunscreen regularly, and keep the skin from burning.
Sunburn is a painful and nasty skin condition, but it's easy to find relief. Whether you have a severe or mild sunburn, our home remedies for sunburn are designed to soothe pain, swelling, skin irritation, and redness while the area heals. From a cool bath and cold compress to oatmeal, there are lots of things you can try.
Try the above-mentioned tips to prevent even more complications, pain, and maybe a ruined vacation.