Once sunburn occurs, you can't do much to limit damage to your skin. However, the following tips may reduce your pain and discomfort in the hours and days after sunburn:
- Take anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others), on a regular basis according to the label instructions until redness and soreness subside. Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 2, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin intake has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
- Apply cold compresses — such as a towel dampened with cool tap water — to the affected skin. Or take a cool bath or shower.
- Apply a moisturizing cream, aloe vera lotion or hydrocortisone cream to affected skin. A low-dose (0.5 to 1 percent) hydrocortisone cream may decrease pain and swelling, and speed up healing.
- If blisters form, don't break them. They contain your natural body fluid (serum) and are a protective layer. Also, breaking blisters slows the healing process and increases the risk of infection. If needed, lightly cover blisters with gauze. If blisters break on their own, apply an antibacterial cream.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Sun exposure and heat can cause fluid loss through your skin. Be sure to replenish those fluids to prevent dehydration — when your body doesn't have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions.
- Treat peeling skin gently. Within a few days, the affected area may begin to peel. This is simply your body's way of getting rid of the top layer of damaged skin. While your skin is peeling, continue to use moisturizing cream.
Some products — such as topical "-caine" products, for example, benzocaine — claim to relieve sunburn pain. Some dermatologists warn against using these products because they can irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction. Benzocaine has also been linked to a rare but serious, sometimes deadly, condition that decreases the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry. Don't use benzocaine in children younger than age 2 without supervision from a health care professional, as this age group has been the most affected. If you're an adult, never use more than the recommended dose of benzocaine and consider talking with your doctor.
Apr. 14, 2011
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- Wolf K, et al. Photosensitivity, photo-induced disorders and disorders by ionizing radiation. In: Wolff K, et al. Fitzpatrick's Color Atlas and Synopsis of Clinical Dermatology. 6th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2009. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=45. Accessed March 13, 2011.
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- Habif TP. Light-related diseases and disorders of pigmentation. In: Habif TP. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 5th ed. Edinburgh, U.K.; New York, N.Y.: Mosby Elsevier; 2010. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/about.do?about=true&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-7234-3541-9..X0001-6--TOP&isbn=978-0-7234-3541-9&uniqId=230100505-57. Accessed March 13, 2011.
- Skin cancer prevention and early detection. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerCauses/SunandUVExposure/SkinCancerPreventionandEarlyDetection/skin-cancer-prevention-and-early-detection-what-to-look-for. Accessed March 14, 2011.
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- Benzocaine topical products: Sprays, gels and liquids — risk of methemoglobinemia. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm250264.htm. Accessed Apr. 8, 2011.