What to do if you get sunburnt

While it’s always best to slip, slop, slap in the first place, if you do end up sunburnt, this is how to ease the pain and help mend your damaged skin.

Despite widespread health warnings about the dangers of sun damage, about one in eight Australian adults wind up sunburnt on an average summer weekend.

If you’ve caught a little too much sun, here’s how to ease the burn and help your skin heal.

What happens when you get sunburnt?

Skin redness, pain and, in severe cases, swelling and blisters, are all visible indicators of sunburn.

Australasian College of Dermatologists member Associate Professor Saxon Smith said these symptoms were a direct result of “sun exposure being more than your skin cells can tolerate”.

While a single sunburn incident heals with time, some of the remaining cells will remain permanently mutated – and these can eventually grow into skin cancer, such as deadly melanoma.

“Every time you get sunburnt you build up the number of these mutated skin cells that your body cannot repair. This ultimately increases your risk of skin cancer in the future,” Dr Saxon says.

How to treat sunburn

While there is no cure for sunburn, these are the best home treatment options available to boost the recovery from mild sun damage.

Severe sunburn requires medical attention or hospital treatment.

Take a cool shower or apply a compress

“Like any skin burn, the key thing is to get the heat out as soon as possible,” says Dr Saxon, who recommends trying a cool shower or cold compress.

“This helps to decrease the damage to surrounding cells and the inflammation response by the body.”

Apply skin-soothing lotions

A variety of post-sunburn creams and lotions are available, which contain proven skin-soothing ingredients such as aloe vera, niacinamide, vitamin E or photolyase.

Ask about over-the-counter medications

While the damage might be done, for intense discomfort, pain-relief medication is an option.

Dr Saxon says there are also over-the-counter tablets, containing nicotinamide or polypodium leucotomos extract, which claim to help DNA repair mechanisms.

Re-hydrate with water and moisturiser

Dehydration is likely in the aftermath of sunburn, which is why it’s important to maintain water intake.

If it’s not too uncomfortable, smoothing on a hydrating moisturiser will also improve the skin’s moisture content – but it won’t prevent peeling.

How to care for blistered and peeling skin after sunburn

In the days post sunburn, the skin will peel and itch as the body rids itself of sun-damaged skin cells, which is a natural and unavoidable healing process.

Allow the peeled skin to detach on its own and avoid popping any blisters.

It’s also important to remain out of the sun during this healing process.

And next time, sunburn protection is key

Prevention is always preferable to treatment and Dr Saxon recommends everyone adopt a slip, slop, slap, seek and slide sun protection routine.

“Apply sunscreen, but also wear hats, protective clothing and sunglasses,” he said.

“And be sure to seek out shade in the middle of the day.”

Written by Sharon Hunt.