How to safely treat a case of sun­burn

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - MAYO CLINIC NEWS NET­WORK

It boils down to what’s in the term sun­burn: “sun” and “burn.” Sim­ply put, the sun burns your skin. And the re­sult can be pain, red­ness, blis­ters and peel­ing skin.

“Pre­ven­tion is the key,” says Dr. Cindy Ker­mott, a Mayo Clinic pre­ven­tive medicine physi­cian. “But if you’ve al­ready been sun­burned, tak­ing a cool shower or bath can be a help­ful start.”

Ker­mott says the cool wa­ter from a shower, bath or cold com­press works to tame the in­flam­ma­tion that oc­curs around a sun­burn. Tak­ing an anti-in­flam­ma­tory medicine can help too. Drink­ing plenty of wa­ter will help re­plen­ish what your body is los­ing in bat­tling the sun­burn.

Ker­mott says to avoid ap­ply­ing topi­cal prod­ucts to the burned area, as they can ir­ri­tate the skin and, in some cases, cause an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion. And don’t pop blis­ters that may form.

“That fluid that’s un­der­neath the blis­ters is com­pletely ster­ile,” says Ker­mott. “It can only be­come in­fected if it has ex­po­sure to the out­side world — if it’s popped.”

Ker­mott says if blis­ters break on their own, ap­ply an an­tibac­te­rial cream to pro­tect the newly ex­posed layer of skin. See a doc­tor if the sun­burn: • Is ac­com­pa­nied by a high fever or ex­treme pain

• Blis­ter­ing cov­ers a large part of your body

• Pro­duces yellow drainage or red streaks lead­ing away from blis­ters

Fi­nally, Ker­mott says to wear loose-fit­ting cot­ton cloth­ing over the burn to limit any fur­ther ex­po­sure to the sun un­til the skin is healed.

To avoid sun­burn:

• Cover ex­posed ar­eas with sun­screen.

• Seek shade dur­ing peak sun hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sun­glasses to pro­tect your eyes and the del­i­cate skin around them. Life­style and home reme­dies: Once sun­burn oc­curs, you can’t do much to limit dam­age to your skin. But the fol­low­ing tips may re­duce your pain and dis­com­fort:

• Take a pain re­liever. If needed, an over-the-counter pain re­liever such as ibupro­fen (Advil, Motrin IB, oth­ers) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) may help con­trol the pain and swelling of sun­burn, es­pe­cially if you take it soon af­ter sun ex­po­sure. Some types of pain re­liev­ers may be ap­plied to your skin as gels.

• Cool the skin. Ap­ply a com­press to the af­fected skin — such as a towel damp­ened with cool tap wa­ter. Or take a cool bath or shower.

• Ap­ply mois­tur­izer. An aloe vera lo­tion or gel may be sooth­ing.

• Don’t break small blis­ters (no big­ger than your lit­tle fin­ger­nail). If a blis­ter breaks, gen­tly clean the area with mild soap and wa­ter, ap­ply an an­tibi­otic oint­ment, and cover it with a non-stick gauze ban­dage.

• Treat peel­ing skin gen­tly. Within a few days, the af­fected area may be­gin to peel. This is your body’s way of get­ting rid of the top layer of dam­aged skin. While your skin is peel­ing, con­tinue to mois­tur­ize.

• Pro­tect your sun­burn from fur­ther sun ex­po­sure. Stay out of the sun or pro­tect your­self from sun­light when you go out­side.

• Avoid ap­ply­ing “-caine” prod­ucts, such as ben­zo­caine. Such creams may ir­ri­tate the skin or cause an al­ler­gic re­ac­tion. Ben­zo­caine has been linked to a rare but po­ten­tially deadly con­di­tion that de­creases the amount of oxy­gen that the blood can carry (methe­moglobine­mia).

Don’t use ben­zo­caine in chil­dren younger than age 2 with­out su­per­vi­sion from a health care pro­fes­sional.

If you’re an adult, never use more than the rec­om­mended dose and con­sider talk­ing with your doc­tor be­fore us­ing it.


Once sun­burn oc­curs, you can’t do much to limit dam­age to your skin, but there are ways to try to re­duce the pain and dis­com­fort.

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