Once sunburn occurs, you can't do much to limit damage to your skin. But the following tips may reduce your pain and discomfort:
- Take a pain reliever. If needed, an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) may help control the pain and swelling of sunburn, especially if you take it soon after sun exposure. Some types of pain relievers may be applied to your skin as gels.
- Cool the skin. Apply to the affected skin a compress — such as a towel dampened with cool tap water. Or take a cool bath or shower.
- Apply moisturizer. An aloe vera lotion or gel may be soothing.
- Don't break small blisters (no bigger than your little fingernail). If a blister breaks, gently clean the area with mild soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, and cover it with a nonstick gauze bandage.
- Treat peeling skin gently. Within a few days, the affected area may begin to peel. This is your body's way of getting rid of the top layer of damaged skin. While your skin is peeling, continue to moisturize.
- Protect your sunburn from further sun exposure. Stay out of the sun or protect yourself from sunlight when you go outside.
- Avoid applying "-caine" products, such as benzocaine. Such creams may irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction. Benzocaine has been linked to a rare but potentially deadly condition that decreases the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry (methemoglobinemia).
Don't use benzocaine in children younger than age 2 without supervision from a health care professional. If you're an adult, never use more than the recommended dose and consider talking with your doctor before using it.
Use these methods to prevent sunburn, even on cool, cloudy or hazy days. And be extra careful around water, snow and sand because they reflect the sun's rays. In addition, UV light is more intense at high altitudes.
- Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. The sun's rays are strongest during these hours, so try to schedule outdoor activities for other times. If you can't do that, limit the length of time you're in the sun. Seek shade when possible.
- Avoid sun tanning and tanning beds. Using tanning beds to obtain a base tan doesn't decrease your risk of sunburn.
- Cover up. When outside, wear a wide-brimmed hat and clothing that covers you, including your arms and legs. Dark colors offer more protection, as do tightly woven fabrics. Consider using outdoor gear specially designed to provide sun protection. Check the label for its ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), which indicates how effectively a fabric blocks damaging sunlight. The higher the number, the better.
Use sunscreen frequently and generously. No matter what your skin type is, use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater and broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater.
About 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors, apply sunscreen generously on skin that won't be protected by clothing. Reapply it every two hours — or more often if you're swimming or sweating. If you're also using insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend products that combine an insect repellent with a sunscreen.
You may use sunscreen on toddlers and babies 6 months or older. The best products for them are those that contain physical blockers (titanium oxide, zinc oxide). For babies under 6 months, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using other forms of sun protection, such as shade or clothing.
- Wear sunglasses when outdoors. Choose sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection. Check the UV rating on the label when buying new glasses. Darker lenses are not necessarily better at blocking UV rays. It also helps to wear sunglasses that fit close to your face and have wraparound frames that block sunlight from all angles.
- Be aware of medications that increase your sensitivity to the sun. Common drugs that make you more sensitive to sunlight include antihistamines, ibuprofen, certain antibiotics, antidepressants, antipsychotics and some cholesterol-lowering drugs. Talk with your pharmacist about your medication side effects.
June 01, 2017
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