So you’ve sat out in the sun Elle Woods style and forgot to reapply your sunscreen in this 105 degree heat, huh? Let me guess, you look like a lobster and you don’t know what to do. First we need to cover what sunburn actually is: extreme, severe skin damage. The UV rays have penetrated your skin and burned it and your body is now trying to heal itself. The redness you see is the blood rushing to the area, not the sun’s lasting mark. You may also feel heat from this blood flow since it happens so quickly and in large amounts. Why does blood rush to the area you ask, because the more blood flow, the more white blood cells which are there to heal woulds in the body. It is your body’s first defense against damage, aka sunburn. In a few days you will typically see your skin start to peel. Gross right? Not exactly. It is actually helpful. The cells that become sunburnt are more likely to become cancerous so your body sheds these skin cells to rid you of the cancer that may be occurring. Don’t peel those pesky skin patches up, no matter how much they taunt you, they will go away in a few days and your skin will be back to normal.
Now that you know what sunburn is we can talk about what you can do to help yourself, and what not to do. Let’s start with don’ts. DON’T follow any of those silly Pinterest tips, any old wives tale about soap under you sheets (okay, that’s for growing pains but you get it), and no homemade concoctions from the Wiccan down the street. DON’T apply anything that will hold in the body heat such as petroleum based products like Vaseline, balms, or lotions. DON’T use anything that numbs your pain since that will most likely irritate the skin and slow down the healing process. DON’T buy aloe vera gels over the counter that are not pure aloe. Stay away from fragrance, dyes, formaldehyde releasers (like Diazolidinyl Urea), and especially drying agents like alcohol. Since there are so many things not to do, what can we do to help our bodies heal from sunburn? DO drink lots of water. Up your H2O intake to make up for the water that rushes to the burn and is not in your normal body systems. Keeping enough water in your body to fulfill all it’s needs is crucial to prevent dehydration. DO take cool baths or showers to help ease the burning sensation but no scrubbing or exfoliating and no harsh fragrant body washes or bubble baths. DO apply cold compresses to the area a couple of times a day. Cold water, cold green tea, and cold aloe work best. And my personal favorite, DO apply pure aloe vera. The best and cheapest way is to buy an aloe plant and break off a piece when you need some. You can also find pure aloe in the store but make sure it has minimal ingredients. Aloe vera has healing properties that speed up recovery time in your body and is gentle enough to not cause any extra damage. It can be used for acne, scars, scabs, but does especially well on burns which is why it is perfect for a sunburn. Lastly, if you must go out in the sun DO cover up your burn. If that is not possible use a strong sunscreen made for babies because they are a lot less harsh and have less ingredients. They are made specifically for sensitive skin. I prefer a physical sunscreen because it will sit on top of your skin and not sink into that damaged area. Pick up the Badger one at Salt. If you prefer a chemical sunscreen I suggest Coppertone Water Babies which you can snag at about any grocery store or market. Make sure you are using 30-50 spf. Anything lower will not get the job done, anything higher is not doing anything extra. Reapply at a normal rate but try your hardest to stay out of the sun at all cost.
Let’s recap: Don’t apply anything that someone down the street made up in their kitchen, don’t numb your pain away, and don’t forget to hydrate. Do buy an aloe plant, do stay inside, and do call Salt and ask for Mary if you have anymore questions. Sunburns can suck but you don’t need to make them worse. Happy summer! And for goodness sakes, just go get a spray tan!
written by: mary