Ouch! How to Soothe Sunburn and Repair Your Skin
There are so many amazing things that come with the wonderful season of summer. School is out, the weather is warmer, and the days are longer. Although we love about the summer months, there are some drawbacks as well, the biggest one being sunburns. Sunburns are one of the world’s most common and annoying issues. But the good news is we can tell you how to soothe sunburn (or, ideally, prevent it entirely).
- Sunburns occur because of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. These rays are so powerful that they cause our skin cells to mutate which can permanently damage our DNA and cause our skin cells to die.
- Preventing sun exposure is nearly impossible, but preventing sunburns can be done. Stay out of the sun between 10 am and 2 pm when the sun’s rays are the strongest, and make sure to apply an SPF every single morning to your face, neck, chest, and any other exposed skin
- Your body heals itself naturally, but by applying cooling products such as aloe, ice, or a cold compress you can relieve some of the pain and speed up the healing process
How do sunburns happen?
I’m sure that sunburns are no mystery to anybody. In fact, we were all probably introduced to them from a very young age. We all know what a sunburn is and what they look and feel like, but do we know exactly how a sunburn happens?
The sun is our single greatest source of life. But with great power comes great responsibility. The sun’s power is the most intense thing we can feel from outer space. It blesses us with sunshine and warmth during the summer months, but it also has the power to severely harm our skin and overall health and lead to life-threatening situations.
Sunburns are essentially the marks that UV rays leave on our skin. The sun emits UV rays, both UVA and UVB. Although the sun is millions of miles away, we can still see, feel, and reap the consequences of its strength. When ultraviolet radiation waves (UV rays) reach our skin’s surface, they cause our skin cells to mutate and slowly change our cells’ DNA.
While our bodies are the single greatest piece of technology known to us, they’re not perfect. So although we have several ways of preventing, correcting, and treating a sunburn naturally, if our skin cells are exposed to an excess amount of UVA and UVB rays, the damage can be irreversible.
If the damage is too extreme for the body to heal and correct itself, then the skin cells ultimately die off. In turn, our blood vessels widen to aid in the increase of blood flow to the damage site and transport healthy cells to help clean up the dead skin cells and ultimately repair the trauma that was just inflicted upon your skin. This is why the area of skin that is sunburnt appears red, tender, flaky, and even hot to the touch. This may not sound like a big deal. People get sunburned all the time, and we have other healthy cells to replace the damaged ones. Don't brush off the consequences.
The human body is wonderfully made, and oftentimes a sunburn can be harmless when you look at long-term health. Even though we are constantly producing new and healthy skin cells, sometimes the damage done to the pre-existing skin cells is so severe that the mutations remain in the DNA of the trauma site. Essentially, being sunburnt repeatedly or being exposed to extremely powerful UV rays without protection causes too much damage for the body to restore, leaving you with permanent conditions.
Sunburns are typically a universal experience, but there are some people that are more prone to burns than others. Typically, those with more fair complexions that freckle easily and have pink or red undertones are the first to burn and suffer the most severe burns.
Oftentimes, people with darker complexions or olive skin don’t produce the same type of sunburn symptoms, so they assume they never burn. This is unfortunately false. While some people may never see the typical symptoms of a sunburn, that does not mean that they are not damaging their skin. The sun’s rays are powerful no matter your complexion, and there is always the chance that you can be damaging your skin cells permanently.
How to prevent sunburns
The answer to this is probably not the one anyone wants to hear. The single best way to prevent sunburns is to simply stay out of the sun. I know, it's a “captain obvious” answer but it is the simple science behind burning. Of course, this is neither realistic nor helpful for most people.
A better way to look at it is to avoid excess sun exposure between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm. That four hour span is when the sun is directly above us and therefore the rays are the least obstructed and at their highest radiation potential. This is the time that you are most likely to get burned, and those burns will be more severe. If you do go out in the sun during these hours or any hours of the day, apply and reapply an SPF.
SPF is the cardinal rule of dermatology. Many dermatologists will tell you that no matter what skincare products you’re using or what treatments you get done if you’re not wearing SPF every single day, none of it matters. SPF is not solely for sun protection either. Sunscreen slows down aging, protects against hyperpigmentation, repairs rosacea, and so much more. SPF is like insurance for your face. If you’re not using sunscreen daily, you’re wasting your time and money on the rest of your skincare regimen.
How to soothe sunburns & repair your skin
While your body will be working overtime to heal a sunburn on its own, there are some things you can do to speed up the process and ease the discomfort. Because sunburns are trauma responses of the skin, they have similar side effects to other traumas such as incisions, infections, and scrapes. They are oftentimes extremely red, painful, blistering, and hot to the touch. Here are some products that can help to ease these symptoms:
- Aloe vera
- Cool bath or shower
- Cold compress or ice
Most of these remedies help with the hotness and the pain, your body will take care of the rest. While many sunburns are harmless, if you have any concerns or see any signs that your sunburn is not healing properly or quickly, see a dermatologist immediately. Skin cancer is one of the most common diseases associated with sunburns, and it can be prevented and treated if caught early enough. Wear your SPF every morning even in the dead of winter, and make sure to see your dermatologist at least once a year for a full body scan to look for any changing or new concerning spots.
Written by Jordan Hammaren