Perhaps you forgot to apply sunscreen, or you sat under a beach umbrella that you thought would keep the rays away. Maybe you just stayed in the tanning bed too long. Now your skin is stinging, red and painful to touch.
For the next few days at least, while new skin is forming under the damaged layer and depending on the severity of your burn, you could be more than a little uncomfortable.
The first two or three days after a sunburn
The quickest way to ruin a week at the beach is to get a sunburn on the first day. You definitely want to avoid the sun while your sunburn is healing, or you could face more damage and a longer recovery. Cover up with clothing that includes a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses, and stay in the shade as much as possible.
Relieve symptoms with cool baths or cloths, topical steroids such as 1-percent hydrocortisone cream and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like acetaminophen or aspirin. Drink plenty of water to keep from becoming dehydrated. Hydrocortisone creams should not be used on children under 2. Check with your physician for the correct dosage of pain medication for your child.
Wear loose-fitting clothing to keep irritation to a minimum.
Keep the area moisturized with lotions or creams. Avoid products that claim to relieve sunburn pain with benzocaine. Most also contain alcohol that can dry your skin.
If weeping blisters form, don't break them open. You can cover them lightly with gauze to absorb the moisture, but don't let the tape touch the blisters. If there are blisters on a large section of skin, consider seeking medical attention.
For the next several days after a sunburn
Within a week of the initial exposure and after the sting has subsided, the affected area may begin to peel and itch. This is simply your body's way of getting rid of the top layer of damaged skin. While your skin is peeling, use moisturizers to protect the tender layer of new skin. Scratching could result in infection. If you must remove the peeling skin yourself, be careful not to tear too deeply and cause damage to the new layer of skin.
It could be up to two weeks before the damaged area seems normal again. Continue to apply moisturizers and hydrocortisone cream until healing is complete.
Sun safety for life
Even after your sunburn is healed, the effects of sunburn never go away. The damage caused by even one sunburn is permanent. Multiple sunburns can result in premature aging and wrinkles, dryness and sometimes life-threatening skin cancers.
To reduce further damage, always use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and ingredients such as zinc and titanium, which offer both UVA and UVB protection. Apply about 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen over your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
Limit your exposure to both natural and artificial sunlight. Seek the shade, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Be aware, however, that sunlight bouncing off reflective surfaces can reach you even beneath an umbrella or tree.