It’s happened to the best of us: that slapdash SPF application as we run to soak up the rays. But if you find yourself sporting lobster-like skin, thanks to consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson Dr Anjali Mahto, it’s never been easier to treat the pain, peeling and potentially serious damage.
Act quickly and get out of the sun
Cover up affected areas and stay in the shade until your sunburn has healed. Wear loose cotton clothing that allows your skin to ‘breathe’ over sunburnt areas.
Take over the counter pain relief
Analgesia or painkillers can help relieve the pain and reduce inflammation caused by sunburn. Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen should be continued for a period of at least 48 hours if there are no side effects. Paracetamol can help ease pain but has little effect on inflammation.
Cool the skin
Apply a cool compress to the skin, such as a towel dampened with cool water, for 15 minutes, or take a cool bath or shower. Aim to keep the temperature just below lukewarm and ensure your shower has a gentle flow of water rather than being on full power. If blisters are starting to develop, then opt for a bath. Don’t rub your skin with a towel, but gently pat it dry when you get out.
After a bath or shower, use an unperfumed cream or lotion to soothe the skin. Repeated applications of this are necessary to reduce the appearance of peeling and may need to be continued for several weeks. Aloe vera can be beneficial in soothing the skin as it not only has a cooling effect, but also acts as an anti-inflammatory. However, ensure to avoid using creams or lotions that contain petroleum, benzocaine or lidocaine, as these can trap heat in the skin or cause skin irritation.
Sunburn can encourage fluid loss through the skin. Drinking plenty of water will prevent dehydration and help your body to recover. Ideally avoid alcohol as it can make dehydration worse.
Use of mild steroid cream
Using a weak steroid cream such as 0.5-1 per cent hydrocortisone for 48 hours may decrease pain and swelling caused by sunburn and speed up the healing process – although this is best avoided for small children.
Leave blisters alone
Try not to pop blisters as this can lead to infection and scarring. They will settle by themselves after a few days, and in the meantime, treat the skin gently.