Sure, You Said It Wouldn't Happen, but This Is How to Treat Sunburn

Becci Vallis

You applied your sun cream by the book, endured regular top-ups and even gave yourself a shade break. But what’s this? Red shoulders and a décolletage that looks patchier than an Anthropologie quilt? Experts say that despite our best efforts, most of us still aren’t applying enough sun cream and are still choosing SPFs that are too low.

“You need to choose the suncare most suited to your phototype [how much melanin is in your skin] but as the absolute minimum we recommend SPF 50 for the face and 30 for the body,” explains Emilie Montassier, training manager at Bioderma.

In layman’s terms, this basically means that the lighter your skin tone, the less melanin you have, so the more likely you are to burn—not rocket science, just science, so English Rose’s and Milky Bar kid blondes, beware. It also goes some way to explaining why, if you’re pale, your skin might go crispier than your pal’s, despite your good intentions.

Feeling the burn? Here’s what you can do to numb the pain and play down the redness.

1. Reach for the after sun

Sounds obvious, but these formulas were made for a reason. Containing anti-inflammatories and soothing ingredients, dedicated after-sun treatments also help to repair the skin by sealing in moisturiser. Go-to ingredients are the somewhat obvious aloe vera and cucumber, although Anjali Mahto, MD, consultant dermatologist at The Cadogan Clinic, also flags up shea butter, rose water, calamine and lanolin balm, all of which are known for their excellent skin-calming properties.

2. Pop a pill

“You can’t immediately reverse the damage sun has done to your skin, but you can ease the pain and discomfort,” explains Mahto. “Analgesia or painkillers like Ibuprofen are ideal, as they will help reduce inflammation and should be continued for a period of at least 48 hours.”

3. Take a cold shower

Sounds like a throwaway comment, but just like when you scald your skin and run it under cold water, taking a cool shower will help relieve any tight, tingling sensations where you’re feeling sensitive. Keep the shower on a low pressure, though, and don’t rub yourself dry; pat skin instead.

4. Beware of naturals

Some natural and organic products can exacerbate sunburn and cause sensitivities in an already vulnerable skin barrier. Mahto advises you stick to bland emollients like vitamin E to allow the skin to recover, and be wary of creams containing petroleum, benzocaine or lidocaine. “These can trap heat in the skin and cause irritation,” she says.

5. Dial down your regular skincare routine

If you’ve burnt your face, reassess what you’re using. Exfoliants, acids and too many actives will aggravate the area and are likely to send your complexion into overdrive. Back off for a few days while you give your skin a chance to recover. Normal service will resume much more quickly.

6. Cover up

If you’re already feeling the burn, but you’re only halfway through your holiday, our only advice would be to up your factor, reapply your suncream every two hours, and keep those sunburnt areas well covered. Dullsville, yes, but it’s the only way to keep your skin safe and sound. You’ll thank us in the long run.

ONE LAST THING… HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO HEAL?

“It depends on its severity,” says Mahto. “In most cases, any pain should usually subside after 48 hours, but changes to the skin, such as blisters, are usually the sign of a moderate to severe burn, so they can persist for up to a week.”

Be prepared for the peeling to last for several days, though, as that won’t reach its finale until the healing process is complete. This could take as little as a week, but Montassier says it’s worth remembering that on average, skin-cell renewal takes 21 days, so it all depends on how severe your sunburn is.

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