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Summertime brings with itself lots of nostalgia, thrill and joy of vacations and an assortment of summer delicacies. Who wouldn’t love to bask under the warm summer sun at a beach or maybe go trekking up in the mountains? But one thing most of us forget about in those euphoric daydreams is gearing up for skin care; results: sunburn.

Surely you never added this little prick to your summer list?

Sunburn usually occurs when your body is directly exposed to sun rays for a prolonged period of time.

Even if you were too precautious and plastered yourself with enough sunscreen to last for a whole day, you may still end up getting burnt by sun rays. Interestingly, your skin isn’t safe from sun damage on cool and cloudy days either. Bet you never knew that!

Sure sunburns cannot be avoided completely but you don’t really have to endure the pain of sun damage every time you go out.

  1. How will you know you have sunburn?
  2. How to reduce sunburn: sunburn prevention
  3. How to treat sunburn at home?
  4. When to see a doctor for sunburn?

As easy it is to get burnt under the sun, you may not notice sunburn immediately. It takes about 4 hours before some apparent changes start appearing on your skin, apart from being burnt to red of course. A sunburn may aggravate for one or two days and would take another 3 to 5 days to resolve completely

In mild cases, you will just see a change in the colour of skin and nothing else. But in moderate sunburn, other symptoms could show up:

  • Colour change: Your skin might turn pink to red, sometimes even purple.
  • Temperature: You will feel a slight rise in the temperature of the damaged skin.
  • Pain: Depending on the severity of the damage you might experience pain at the burn site.
  • Itching: Immediately after getting a burn, you may feel an urge to scratch the skin, never do this, it might worsen the condition.

In severe cases, sunburn may lead to blisters, peeling and cracked skin, headache, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.

The best way to avoid a sunburn is preventing it from happening. Thankfully, not all sun rays are as evil. You just have to be safe from UV rays of the sun, which have the most damaging effects on human skin.

  • Always use sunscreen (at least with SPF 30) on all the exposed areas to protect from devastating effects of ultraviolet rays. Repeat its application every 2 hours or as per the instructions mentioned. Yes, it may not be as effective but that doesn’t mean you’ll leave the only protection you have?
  • Avoid activities like snowboarding and skiing, which may cause you severe sunburn. Surprised? Snow reflects UV radiation very effectively and this radiation is much more at higher altitudes.
  • Infants should not be exposed to direct UV rays. Always use a sunscreen specifically for children before taking them out to get that essential sun exposure for vitamin D synthesis.
  • Always wear full clothes that tend to cover almost every part of your body.
  • Wear sunglasses that reflects UV rays.
  • Never forget to use a lip balm with SPF as lips are one of the most sensitive to sunburn.
  • Try to avoid complete sun exposure between 10 am to 4 pm as the sun rays are most harsh during this period.

It is extremely important to treat and manage sunburn as negligence could damage your skin adversely and permanently. Frequent and recurrent sunburn over particular areas on the skin may even predispose you to skin cancer.

Although there is no exact cure for sunburn, you have to take care of all the symptoms individually. Getting back to normal skin after a sunburn takes time and patience.

Broadly, you can manage the symptoms in two ways, by home remedies or taking medical help. In the following sections of this article, you will know about both these ways of treating sunburn.

  1. Home remedies for sunburn
  2. Essential oils for sunburn
  3. Hydration for sunburn: drink enough water
  4. Over the counter medicine for sunburn

Home remedies for sunburn

Let’s face it being burnt in the sun once is incentive enough to avoid going out for a while. But that doesn’t mean you can’t treat yourself at home. Nothing is more convenient and soothing than natural alternatives. They relax your skin, providing you with the much-needed relief right at home.

Cold water bath

A cold water shower is the most well-known and time-tested remedy for sunburn. It works best if you bath right after getting out of the sun and take a bath a few times over the day. Make sure you are not using soap or shower gel as it could worsen the burned skin. If the area of exposure is limited or less, you can just put a cold damp towel over the affected skin every 10 to 15 minutes until the burning sensation goes away.

Exposing sunburned skin to cold water helps in taking out the heat from it. Moreover, it will ease your pain. After cold water treatment, pat dry your skin superficially leaving it a bit wet, then apply moisturiser to lock hydration.

For maximum benefit, repeat this process for a few days.

Aloe vera

You can never deny the soothing, cooling, moisturizing and relaxing effect of aloe vera gel. It has been scientifically proven that aloe vera pulp hosts an array of bioactive compounds that act synergistically to provide several therapeutic benefits for the skin. It has a stimulating effect on skin fibroblasts (skin cells), leading to increased collagen production and improved healing. Here is how you can use this miracle plant for effective skin care:

Ingredients:

  • Aloe vera leaf
  • A knife
  • A blender

Procedure:

  • Take aloe vera leaf, peel it with the help of a knife and get the pulp out of it
  • Now, put it inside a blender and make a paste
  • Apply it on the affected area gently and leave it for 5-10 minutes
  • Rinse and pat dry

How often should you apply this?

  • Aloe gel is pretty safe to use and you can apply it about 2- 3- times a day until your skin shows some regenerative changes

Tea leaves

Tea leaves are a popular remedy for swollen and inflamed skin. These caffeine-rich leaves have a soothing effect on your damaged skin, which helps provide instant relief from the burning heat of a sunburn. Tannins and theobromine, two bioactive compounds present in tea leaves have been found to be responsible for taking the excess heat out of your skin.

Catechin, another key compound present in these leaves stimulates the regeneration of damaged skin. It also prevents skin damage and chemical or radiation-induced skin cancer. Can you imagine the enormous benefits these tiny leaves provide for you?

Furthermore, green tea is loaded with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, various studies have demonstrated the potential of these aromatic leaves in reversing the damaging effects of UV rays. Here is how you can make the best use of tea leaves:

Ingredients:

  • Green tea or black tea leaves
  • 1 cup of water

Procedure:

  • Add 1 cup water to a pan and bring it to boil
  • Then add tea leaves into the boiling water, turn the heat off after 3 to 5 minutes
  • Let the water cool and put it in the refrigerator for half an hour
  • Dip a cotton cloth in the cooled infused water and apply over the affected area

How often should you use this?

  • You can apply this infusion a few times a day until the symptoms of sun damage go away

Cucumber

You may have seen people putting cucumber slices on their eyes to get rid of dark circles, but did you know it can palliate symptoms of sunburn. Cucumber is used in Indian traditional medicine since ages. Know why? It has rich water content and strong antioxidant potential. This fruit has a cooling and homeostatic (maintains electrolyte equilibrium) effect on the skin. It soothes and nourishes your skin and it helps reduce swelling and itching associated with sunburn. So next time you cut a cucumber for a salad, keep a few slices aside to combat sunburn. Here is an easy way to use cucumber for soothing sun-damaged skin:

Ingredients:

  • One cucumber
  • A knife
  • A blender

Procedure:

  • Ist method: Cut the cucumber into thin slices with the help of a knife and put them all over the affected area
  • 2nd method: Make a paste of cucumber in a blender and cover the damaged area with the paste

How frequently you should apply this?

  • You can apply this fruit 2 to 3 times every day until you get satisfactory relief

Turmeric and yoghurt

The benefits of turmeric paste with yoghurt are not just limited to fair complexion. It is a go-to home remedy for many skin conditions. Turmeric contains a key bioactive compound known as curcumin that has been scientifically proven to prevent and treat sunburn, photoaging and even skin cancer. Curcumin exhibits anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which help soothe the redness, pain and swelling associated with sunburn.

On the other hand, yoghurt is rich in beneficial microbes and has a cooling effect on the skin. It relaxes your skin by absorbing all the heat from it. To make this mixture, you just need to follow a few simple steps:

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoon of turmeric powder
  • 3 tablespoon of yoghurt
  • A bowl

Procedure:

  • Take a clean and dry bowl
  • Put both the ingredients together and mix them well to form a paste-like consistency
  • Apply the paste all over the damaged skin
  • Wait for 30 minutes and rinse it with cold water carefully

How frequently should you apply this mixture?

  • You can apply this paste 2-3 times a day or less depending on how quickly you get relief

Essential oils for sunburn

Essential oils are one of the easiest and hassle-free remedies for sunburn. These plant essences contain natural antimicrobial compounds, which prevent the skin from being infected. They have also been found to promote skin regeneration and rejuvenation.

Complementary treatment of sunburn with these oils could improve skin hydration and provide great relief from pain.

A few specific essential oils such as lavender oil, tea tree oil, rose oil, peppermint oil and sandalwood oil work the best for treating sun-damaged skin.

All you have to do is to mix a few drops of any of these essential oils in an appropriate carrier oil and gently apply the mixture on the affected area, then leave it undisturbed to get absorbed slowly.

A word of caution: Essential oils are highly volatile and potentiated preparations. Never apply essential oils directly on skin.

Hydration for sunburn: drink enough water

Dead heat sweeps out fluid from the exposed skin and makes it dry from inside. Apart from giving you a nasty skin rash, this also slows down the process of healing.

Since water makes 70% of your body's volume, it is important to maintain adequate water levels to keep your body functioning at the optimum. So, drink plenty of fluids all through the day to restore all the lost hydration in your body.

(Read more: How much water to drink in a day)

Another alternative is to eat foods that have rich water content like cucumber, tomato and watermelon. Apart from providing you with hydration, these fruits will also help maintain the electrolyte balance in your body and provide you with an antioxidant boost that will ultimately promote healing.

(Read more: Electrolyte imbalance causes and treatment)

Over the counter medicine for sunburn

It is best to avoid the application of over the counter ointments, lotions, creams or sprays on sun-damaged skin. However, in the case of extreme sunburn and blisters, you will need extra protection from infections. In this case, an antiseptic ointment or hydrocortisone cream may be applied.

Similarly, over the counter painkillers like aspirin or ibuprofen can be taken to get relief from swelling and pain.

In most cases, sunburn can be easily managed at home. Though, a severe sunburn may need expert consultation. Here are some of the signs that indicate that need for professional involvement:

  • Raise in body's temperature
  • Dizziness
  • Increased heart rate or breathing rate
  • Intense thirst with no or minimal urine output and sunken eyes
  • Extreme sensitivity to light and pain in eyes
  • Pale and cold skin
  • Blister formation
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References

  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Sun Exposure - Sunburn
  2. Better health channel. Department of Health and Human Services [internet]. State government of Victoria; Sunburn
  3. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: US National Library of Medicine; Sunburn
  4. American Academy of Dermatology. Rosemont (IL), US; Treating sunburn
  5. Radava R. Korać, Kapil M. Khambholja. Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation . Pharmacogn Rev. 2011 Jul-Dec; 5(10): 164–173. PMID: 22279374
  6. Mukherjee PK, Nema NK, Maity N, Sarkar BK. Phytochemical and therapeutic potential of cucumber. Fitoterapia. 2013 Jan;84:227-36. PMID: 23098877
  7. Xiaoming Liu et al. Protective effect of curcumin against ultraviolet A irradiation-induced photoaging in human dermal fibroblasts . Mol Med Rep. 2018 May; 17(5): 7227–7237. PMID: 29568864
  8. Kuen-Daw Tsai et al. Curcumin Protects against UVB-Induced Skin Cancers in SKH-1 Hairless Mouse: Analysis of Early Molecular Markers in Carcinogenesis . Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2012; 2012: 593952. PMID: 22888366
  9. Karaoz B. First-aid home treatment of burns among children and some implications at Milas, Turkey. J Emerg Nurs. 2010 Mar;36(2):111-4. PMID: 20211400
  10. Ané Orchard, Sandy van Vuuren. Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases . Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017; 2017: 4517971. PMID: 28546822
  11. Health Harvard Publishing. Harvard Medical School [Internet]. How to treat a child’s sunburn. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  12. healthdirect Australia. Sunburn treatments. Australian government: Department of Health
  13. American Academy of Dermatology. Rosemont (IL), US; How to treat sunburn
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