How to help relieve sunburn
Cast your mind back over the past few months. How many times have you woken up on a Monday morning with memories of a great weekend spent outdoors… and the telltale red skin to show for it? There’s a good chance it might have happened at least once: there are estimates that each weekend over the summer, around 2.4 million Australian adults get sunburnt, including 18% of men and 12% of women.1
Whether you forgot to reapply, got caught out without adequate protection, or simply missed a spot, we all know just how painful a sunburn can be. But it’s not only the temporary ouch-factor that we should be concerned about: research shows that two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.2 It’s also known that sun exposure in the first 10 years of our life partly determines the lifetime potential for skin cancer, while sun exposure in later life determines how much this potential is realised.3
How to help prevent sunburn
The best way to help relieve sunburn is to avoid it in the first place, so here’s a basic sun-protection refresher.
● Apply a broad-spectrum high SPF sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outdoors and make sure you use enough to properly cover your face and body. You’ll need half a teaspoon each for the face and neck, plus one teaspoon each for your arms, legs, front and back of the body.4
● Reapply it every two hours. If you’ve been swimming, sweating or exercising, or you’ve towelled dry, you’ll need to reapply it more frequently.
● Cover up with protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses.
● And finally, seek out a shady spot so you’re not in the full glare of the sun.
How to tell if you’re getting sunburnt
According to Victoria Health, it can take up to six hours for sunburnt skin to look red – and by then it might be too late to stop it.5 If you’re outside, pay attention to any changes in skin colour; it may go from pink to red or purple. Your skin might also feel hot, painful or prickly to the touch. If you start to notice any of these signs, it’s best to go inside and stay out of the sun. Sunburn can continue to develop for 24 to 72 hours, so symptoms might get worse before they improve, including swelling and blistering.
Helping to relieve sunburn
So the worst has happened and you’ve found yourself looking a not-so-flattering shade of crimson? Although there’s no cure for sunburn, there are ways to help minimise the discomfort of a mild sunburn.
Step 1: Cool down
The first step is to cool down your skin by applying a cold compress or taking a cool shower or bath, but avoid soap as it can aggravate skin further. A cool bath with QV Bath Oil is a great way to help rehydrate your skin. Gently pat dry with a towel after bathing, as rubbing can also be irritating.
Step 2: Hydrate
Sunburn can leave you dehydrated both inside and out, so drink extra water over the following days and be on the lookout for any signs of dehydration, such as a dry mouth or dizziness.
Step 3: Moisturise
Sunburn can leave the skin feeling dry and tight, so apply a moisturiser regularly to add back some of that lost hydration. Keep it up in the days that follow to help lessen the severity of any peeling that might occur. If applying moisturiser is too painful for sensitive skin, try a spray-on alternative like SOOV Burn, which contains lignocaine hydrochloride to help provide fast, soothing pain relief. (Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, worsen or change unexpectedly, talk to your healthcare professional.)
Step 4: Don’t touch
If blisters develop, don’t try to pop them, which can lead to infection. Similarly, resist the temptation to scratch or pick at peeling skin and simply leave it alone to heal.
Step 5: Seek medical advice
Severe cases of sunburn should be treated by a medical professional. The Skin & Cancer Foundation recommends seeking medical advice if sunburn blisters cover more than 20% of your body, or if you experience symptoms like nausea, vomiting, dizziness or severe headaches or pain.6
Wait until your skin has completely healed before you go back into the sun. And remember that when it comes to sunburn, preventing it in the first place is always the best option.
- New research shows almost 2.4 million Aussie adults sunburnt on summer weekends [Internet] 2016 Mar 2 [cited 2019 Apr 5]. Available from: https://www.cancer.org.au/news/media-releases/new-research-shows-almost-2.4-million-aussie-adults-sunburnt-on-summer-weekends.html
- Staples MP, Elwood M, Burton RC, Williams JL, Marks R, Giles GG. Non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia: the 2002 national survey and trends since 1985. Med J Aust. 2006;184(1):6-10.
- Skin cancer – children [Internet] 2016 April [cited 2019 Apr 5]. Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/skin-cancer-children
- Schneider J. The teaspoon rule of applying sunscreen. Arch Dermatol. 2002;138(838-839).
- Sunburn [Internet] 2016 April [cited 2019 Apr 5]. Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/sunburn
- Treating sunburn [Internet] [cited 2019 Apr 5]. Available from: https://www.skincancer.asn.au/page/2215/sunburn
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