We all know the feeling – you just spent a fun-filled, sunny, summer weekend at the beach. You’re no novice – you applied your favorite SPF first thing in the morning before hitting the sand, but come 4pm, you’re pink and your skin is stinging. You’re sunburned.
First, what a sunburn does, now and later
We gave you all the scoop on the UV index a little bit ago, but now its time to talk about what those UV rays are doing to your skin.
At it's simplest, exposure to UV light accelerates the production of melanin, the dark pigment in the outer layer of skin that gives your skin its color.
Aka, you get tan.
The extra melanin is your body’s way of protecting you. All of us produce melanin at a different rate; that amount is determined by our genetics. Some of us don’t produce enough (or fast enough) to protect the skin, thus we end up with the dreaded sunburn.
This uncomfortable, irritated red skin can take several days to heal and fade. And in the meantime, if it's really bad, you can suffer from headaches, chills, fevers, and fatigue. Often after a few days, the body may start to heal by peeling off the top layer of damaged skin.
You know all this.
However, the burn itself isn’t the only side effect from repeated, unprotected sun exposure. Sun damage shows up later in other ways – wrinkles, dark spots ("sun spots"), leathery texture – and can take about a decade or more to reveal itself. So the damage you see circa 35 was likely caused by "just getting a base tan" in your early 20s. In fact, your risk for skin cancer doubles after getting just five very serious sunburns.
What's important is that we know the facts. But sometimes even the most protection-minded of us gets a little too much sun. We're human. If it happens to you this summer, here's our Skin Therapist team's top do's and don'ts for caring for skin with a bit of sunburn.
Now, your 7 Sunburn do's and don'ts
If you know the sunburn is happening, it's too late to slather on sunscreen and hope for a restart. Mother Sunshine doesn't give us a do-over. And remember that chemical sunscreens take about 15-20 just to start working. Just get out of the sun or stay under this really chic beach tent and make everyone bring you food and beverage.
Take lukewarm or cool showers. These are probably more refreshing in summer, anyway, and are far less irritating and drying than hot, steamy showers.
Very gently cleanse and skip the exfoliation. Depending on how bad your sunburn is, go very easy on your cleanser (read: use less, go slow, don't scrub). It's good to cleanse yourself of the day's sweat and sunscreen, but listen to your skin here. Definitely skip exfoliation if your skin is already raw and red from the sun.
Apply your moisturizer and/or pure aloe vera gel. Your skin is craving moisture to heal, so be sure to give it the moisture it needs. When it comes to aloe, hunt for the purest gel you can find. Our pro tip is to skip your mainstream drug store and head to a health foods store, who's more likely to stock a more pure, aloe vera gel. (Where you'll find freekah in the bulk section, you'll probably find aloe gel that isn't the color of Gatorade.) Another pro tip? Apply your moisturizer in a small test area of your sunburn first. The last thing you want is more irritation all over.
Don't use petroleum jelly or petrolatum-based products. These seem like hyper-moisturizers, but what you're doing is smothering your burn from breathing and healing. Absolutely skip this.
Don't pick at your skin. So hard, right? We have the same advice here regarding peeling post-sun skin that we do with pimples. Don't pick it. You risk infection, aggravation, and scarring. Just moisturizer to ease nature's course.
Stay hydrated. Chances are good that if you're sunburned, you lost water through sweat throughout the day. Drink lots of water. Never hurts.
And for next time? Do as Mom (and Skin Therapists) say and get that sunscreen on, early and plenty.