Summer officially begins June 21st, but warming weather and sunny days bring with them an all too common problem, sunburn. We've all been there: you forget your sunscreen and decide to chance it, or go for a swim and forget to reapply. The next thing you know, your skin is red and burns to the touch and you dread the pain of your next shower.
Sunburn is caused by the skin absorbing too much radiation in the form of UV rays, a process that can change the DNA in your skin cells and do further damage by causing your body to generate unstable oxygen molecules, called free radicals. This DNA damage can in turn lead to skin cancer. But first things first: sunburns are painful!
While most burns can be treated at home, says Dr. Jessica Krant of the New York City clinic Art of Dermatology, she recommends that people see a doctor if their skin is peeling off in thick pieces, bleeding, in pain, severely blistering, or if fever or lightheadedness develop. Dr. Sue Ann Wee of the Manhattan Center for Dermatology further recommends seeing a doctor if a large area of the body is sunburned.
For less serious cases, we put together a list of easy remedies that use things you may already have in your home. We consulted Drs. Krant and Wee, as well as searching the scientific literature for cures that work.
As general rule, applying anything wet or cool to the skin will help. Water, both inside and out, is essential to rehydrating burned skin. Ibuprofen or aspirin to bring down inflammation is also recommended. Good nutrition is another way to help the skin heal, says Dr. Wee. She advises eating foods with antioxidants—nutrients that fight free radicals—to help prevent additional damage.
Needless to say, the best medicine is prevention. Wear sunscreen, stay in the shade when possible and wear protective clothing. For medical advice on how to treat sunburn, please consult a doctor or other health professional.