What to do if you have sunburn

Try not to get sunburnt in the first place but if you do, have a cool shower, take painkillers and avoid alcohol

“If you do become sunburnt, act quickly and get out of the sun. Cover up the affected areas with loose cotton clothes that allow your skin to breathe, and stay in the shade.” Photograph: iStock

“If you do become sunburnt, act quickly and get out of the sun. Cover up the affected areas with loose cotton clothes that allow your skin to breathe, and stay in the shade.” Photograph: iStock

 

Sunburn is an acute reaction in the skin after excessive overexposure to UV radiation. It causes direct damage to DNA, resulting in inflammation and the death of skin cells.

Sunburn in childhood or adolescence can double the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer in later life, so it is crucial to avoid it.

If you do become sunburnt, act quickly and get out of the sun. Cover up the affected areas with loose cotton clothes that allow your skin to breathe, and stay in the shade. Painkillers such as ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation and relieve the pain.

Make sure you then cool your skin by applying a damp towel for 15 minutes, or take a bath or shower, keeping the temperature just below lukewarm. Make sure the shower has a gentle flow of water; if blisters are starting to develop, then a bath is preferable.

Do not rub your skin with a towel, but gently pat it dry when you get out. Try not to pop blisters as this can lead to infection and scarring – they will settle by themselves after a few days.

After the bath or shower, use an unperfumed lotion to soothe the skin. Aloe vera can also soothe and act as an anti-inflammatory. Sunburn can encourage fluid loss through the skin so make sure to drink plenty of water, which will prevent dehydration and help your body recover.

Alcohol should ideally be avoided during this time as it will make dehydration worse. Treat your skin gently while it heals, and stay covered in the shade.

– Dr Anjali Mahto is a consultant dermatologist and a spokeswoman for the British Skin Foundation – Guardian