Who has never been sunburned? Whether consciously or unconsciously, a large part of the population has suffered a sunburn during their lifetime. Avoiding their appearance is crucial in preventing skin cancer since the risk of melanoma in adulthood doubles if sunburns were suffered in childhood or adolescence. But it is also important to know what to do and what not to do if we suffer from them.
The first thing to do is to identify when we have sunburned our skin.
The signs of sunburn can vary depending on the severity. The mildest form of sunburn is sun erythema when we become red, and this redness lasts for several hours after sun exposure. If the exposure time increases, this burn will become a more severe burn, with blistering. Usually, “the burn starts after 4-6 hours of exposure to sunlight, reaches a maximum after 12-24 hours, and starts to diminish after 72 hours.
In most cases, even if the symptoms disappear in a few days, the damage to the skin remains. The skin has a memory, and each sunburn causes damage to the DNA of the skin cell affected by the burn. These cells have the power to repair this damage, but if the burns are repeated in the same area, this repairing power would be lost and could end up leading, over the years, to skin cancer.
How to act step by step
To avoid further damage to the skin and eliminate the discomfort of burns, the first thing to do is to treat the area as soon as possible, even if we are only red and with little discomfort. Intensely moisturize the skin by applying emollient and soothing creams, drinking plenty of water, taking cold baths or applying cold to the affected area, and taking antioxidant substances that help skin regeneration.
If we apply cold water directly from the faucet, we must ensure that the jet does not directly hit the burned area. The best thing is to immerse the area or apply cold water compresses. This application “should be prolonged until, when it is removed, the pain does not reappear. In no case should ice be applied directly, as it can produce intense vasoconstriction that could further aggravate the injury,” warns the pharmacist. For hydration, it is best to “use specific after-sun products, with soothing and repairing activities that try to help our body repair the damage.
Home remedies to treat sunburn
There are many home remedies that speak of possible beneficial effects on sunburn, but what is true about them? Are they all recommendable? Of all those that exist, the most effective are the dilutions of vinegar in water applied to soaked gauze or towels” since vinegar “is acetic acid, which has an antibiotic function and can act to prevent a burn.”
In the case of green tea, according to Sefac’s pharmacist, “due to its high polyphenol content, when applied topically, it reduces erythema, the number of burn cells and DNA damage, as well as protecting Langerhans cells.” There are many skincare products with green tea you can use to prevent and even reduce the damage caused by sunburn.
Another beneficial infusion is chamomile. “If you have it at home, an excellent option is for cold compresses to be soaked in this chamomile infusion, as it has soothing, astringent, and antibacterial properties,” notes the expert from the Instituto de Dermatología Integral.
Milk is another of the natural remedies that exist. In this case, as the pharmacist points out, “thanks to its proteins and the lactic acid it contains, it can help soothe inflammation and promote cell renewal.”
Other home remedies such as toothpaste, mud, or butter “are totally inadvisable,” warns the pharmacist. In the case of toothpaste, “when it dries, it hardens, and the burn dries out when the damaged skin should be very well hydrated.”
In the case of aloe vera, according to the pharmacist, “it has been found to be anti-inflammatory, healing and emollient and can be used in the treatment of sunburn,” however, as Rodriguez warns, “sometimes it can be dangerous because plants often contain substances that can be irritating or cause allergic reactions in some people.”
- If there are contaminating substances such as sand from the beach, wash the area gently with soap and water to avoid a possible source of infection.
- If the patient reports pain, it is advisable to take acetylsalicylic acid, ibuprofen, or paracetamol.
- If there are no blisters on the skin, “it is necessary to moisturize the area with products containing aloe vera, urea, Centella Asiatica or hydrocortisone ointments,” the pharmacist explains.
- Avoid the use of products containing benzocaine or alcohol, as they can irritate the skin or cause allergies.”
- If there are blisters, avoid occlusive treatments and never open the blisters, as there may be a risk of infection.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing that does not rub the affected skin.
- A doctor should be consulted “in case of very extensive first degree burns, deep second degree burns (extensive area of blisters, swelling and intense pain) or third-degree burns, symptoms of sunstroke (fever, chills, nausea, vomiting or feeling faint), as well as if after a week there is no healing or symptoms of infection appear,” advises the pharmacist.
- It will also be necessary to go if redness and discomfort persist and, more quickly, in people with a personal history of skin cancer or susceptible phototypes.
Beware of sunbathing in the water
Sunbathing on a sun lounger does not always lead to sunburns, but spending a long time in the water can also cause sunburns. This also happens in the snow, since water or snow has a “mirror effect” that concentrates ultraviolet rays and, therefore, it is easier for a person to suffer a sunburn more quickly even if they use sunscreen. Beach sand reflects approximately 20% of the radiation, asphalt 5%, grass 10-20%, sea water 25-30%, snow for example, up to 80%, that is why we burn more quickly in some places or others”.
In this sense, it should be emphasized that “what sunscreen does is to multiply by the SPF the time we can be exposed to the sun without getting burned, but after that time a burn may still occur, hence the need to reapply it continuously and the advice to wear loose clothing and hats and caps to avoid burns,” concludes Sánchez Viera.