First, know that sunburn can be sneaky. A little touch of pink as you’re heading inside after some fun in the sun can quickly turn into a bright red burn. If you feel your skin tingling or see any reddening, it’s time to find some shade.
In spite of your best efforts, you got distracted (or fell asleep) and forgot to reapply your SPF 60, or maybe you played in the pool with your kids a lot longer than you initially intended. Whatever the reason, now you’re suffering through the pain that goes along with lobster-red skin.
Soothing Step 1: Moisturize
Start with a cool shower or bath and follow up with a non-greasy moisturizing cream or lotion. Many experts, including the Skin Cancer Foundation, recommend aloe gel. You can even refrigerate the gel for an extra burst of cooling relief.
Soothing Step 2: Medicate
Any anti-inflammatory (ibuprofen or aspirin for example) will ease the pain of a sunburn, but you may not know they’ll also ease the swelling and redness. Other pain relievers like acetaminophen will help with the pain, but won’t impact the inflammatory symptoms.
Soothing Step 3: Hydrate
Any burn will draw fluid to the surface of your skin and away from the rest of your body, so replenish your internal water supply with extra water, juice, or sports drinks. If your burn is severe, pay close attention for signs of dehydration: dry mouth, excessive thirst, reduced urination, headache, dizziness and sleepiness. Call your doctor if you think you might be dehydrated.
Soothing Step 4: Milk It
No, this step doesn’t involve insisting everyone wait on you hand and foot while you recover (sorry). The Skin Cancer Foundation says cold milk compresses can soothe and help heal your sunburn. Soak a clean towel in a bowl with equal parts milk, water and ice cubes. Hold the towel on your skin for about five minutes, and then repeat three times. The experts say the fat, protein and pH of cold milk produce a topical anti-inflammatory effect.
Know When to See Your Doctor
Most sunburn can be treated at home, but if your burn leads to fevers and chills or covers more than 20% of your body, you should get in touch with your doctor right away.
If you have kids who are sunburn-prone, keep KidsHealth’s Sunburn Instruction Sheet handy and save it for future reference.