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Sunburn – what to do?

I had a sunburn quite often and I think that's really terrible. I don't understand why so many people think sunburn is quite normal. Many male friends of mine pretend they are really though  and don't mention the sunburn. ''O am I sunburned? It doesn't hurt. I'll be fine.''  Some of me female friends could be just as bad. Getting a sunburn is a harsh necessity for them to get tanned. They believe you can't get a tan without turning red, because 'beauty is pain.' 

I often got sunburnt in a very strange way. I remember very well when I was in Lloret deMar and my friends saw a whole map in it (see picture below). Man, I was so sorry. We only had ten days and I had to stay out of the sun for a few days. I HATE sunburn!

Sunburn in Lloret de Mar

> The red 'map' on my back- Lloret de Mar 2008

  • The nagging pain that keeps irritating.
  • The sleepless nights.
  • That you don't know how to sit or lie. And every time you move it feels like sandpaper is being rubbed over your skin.
  • The redness that goes away so slowly...while there are so many other things to do outside in the sun!
  • Being jealous of friends and other people who didn't get sunburnt and who can enjoy the sun without any problems.

What's the fastest way to get rid of that nasty sunburn? What is the best way to take car of a sunburnt skin and how to recover quickly? That's what this blog is about: Sunburn, what to do?

Mild sunburn

There are different degrees of sunburn. First and second-degree burns are also called 'light burns',  although it doesn't feel like 'mild'.  First-degree sunburn means that your skin is slightly red and warm, this redness will disappear in one to three days. A second-degree sunburn means you have fiery, fairly sore skin. This sunburn disappears within three days with a slight exfoliation and leaves a temporary discolouration.

I think most of my sunburns (like my red map) were second degree-burns. Not as bad as it can be, as you can read further on, but still very annoying.

 First- and second-degree sunburn

A mild sunburn (No, that's not me)

What to do when you have a mild sunburn?

  1. Get out of the sun immediately
  2. Cool your skin with lukewarm water, a bath or with wet cloths
  3. Apply after sun or other skin care products such as body lotion with aloe vera
  4. Take an aspirin or paracetamol
  5. Stay inside a cooled room if you have a headache
  6. Drink enough water
  7. Keep the sunburnt skin out of the sun until redness disappears (usually after 3 days)

Home remedies

You can also try home remedies such as yoghurt, cucumber and raw potatoes. It has not been scientifically proven that these remedies work, but it can provide some extra cooling. I used to try cucumber myself (out of despair), but the slices became as hot as coal within seconds.

What works best for me?

What always worked best for me: wet tea towels with cold water, wring some of them out and put them on the burned skin. My shoulders were most often sunburnt. I remember very well that my mother always wrapped a cold, wet tea towel on around my shoulders. For a moment terrible, but then a real relief. I have a love-hate relationship with those cloths. In addition, I regularly rubbed myself with after sun or cooling lotion and stayed out of the sun as much as possible.

Peeling skin

A peeling skin cannot be prevented if you got sunburnt. This is a part of the skin's repair process. I think we should be happy when our skin is peeling, because it is a way for the body to get rid of all the damaged cells, which may be carcinogenic. Your skin then creates new cells under the skin layer.  The best you can do when your skin is peeling is not to pick too much skin and apply a cooling gel or cream to on peeled skin and leave it as much as possible.

Peeled skin

> Peeled skin

Severe sun burn

A severe sunburn means that your skin is burnt third or fourth degree. In a third-degree sunburn, the skin is reddish blue, swollen and very painful. The burned skin can peel off completely after 4 days and your skin can still be uneven and discoloured for a long time. Furthermore, more can appear on the burnt area than normal.

With a fourth-degree sunburn, blisters and flakes will also develop and a blotchy pigmentation will be left behind. 

 Third-degree sunburn

> A heavy combustion

What to do when you get a severe sunburn?

  1. Get out of the sun immediately
  2. Keep burnt skin under lukewarm, soft running water (shower)
  3. Drink at least 2-3 litres a day
  4. Leave blisters and make sure there's no risk of infection
  5. Open blister? Take care of it like a wound and leave the blister sheet in place
  6. Use a painkiller against the pain
  7. Stay out of the sun for at least one week and let your skin recover
  8. Contact your doctor if you have many large blisters or if you suffer from fever, chills, vomiting, nausea, headaches or palpitations
  9. Apply a corticosteroid ointment from the doctor on the heavily burnt skin. Apply once or twice a day until symptoms diminish.
  10.  In case of severe burns you can get anti-inflammatory tablets such as indomethacin or prednisolone.

All these tips offer solutions for short-term consequences. However, there are also long-therm consequences if you get a severe sunburn. These include skin ageing, age spots and skin cancer. The only way to prevent the long-term effects is to prepare yourself in the right way for the sun and harmful UV rays.

How to prevent long-term effects?

  1. Wear UV protective leisure and swimwear
  2. Apply sunscreen with at least SPF30 on uncovered body parts. Read more about sunscreen in our other 'Applying sunscreen' blog.
  3. Stay inside (more often) between 12:00 en 15:00 o'clock when the sun is shining bright
  4. Look for shadow more often
  5. Wear a hat and sunglasses more often