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’Tis the season for sunburns. While we all have the best intentions of wearing sunscreen, there’s always that one time we forget to reapply and disaster strikes. Here are a few remedies for the redness, pain, and flaking of bad sunburns and the awkwardness of terrible tan lines.
Keeping a sunburn cool is important in the 12 to 24 hours following the sun exposure. The burn emits heat, so any extra heat can be unbearable. One of the first things you can do to relieve the pain is to take a cool bath (with or without a gallon of milk added), or apply towels soaked in cool water or milk to the burn. Make sure you choose a bath over a shower, as the water pressure from the showerhead may cause more pain as it touches the burn. Why add milk to your bath? The cool milk will soothe your hot skin and create a protein film that will help minimize pain.
Aloe vera is one of the top sunburn relievers. The clear gel from inside aloe leaves soothes sunburn pain and cools the skin. Some believe that aloe promotes healing, though there is little hard scientific evidence to back this theory up. What we do know is that the gel or store-bought lotions moisturize your damaged skin, preventing the flaking that may come as the burn heals. You can get aloe gel from drug stores, or you can keep an aloe vera plant in your home. Simply cut a leaf from the plant and squeeze the gel out. Getting your aloe gel directly from the plant will cut down on chemicals and additives that may be in store-bought products. Never put aloe vera on before going outside, as the gel can magnify the sun’s rays and burn your skin more.
The tannin found in tea can help to soothe irritated, sunburned skin. Make a large pot of tea using four to six tea bags, then refrigerate. Once the tea is cool, you can put it into a spray bottle and spritz affected skin, or you can soak old towels in the tea (it will stain) and apply the towels to the burn. Alternately, you can get into a cool bath with several tea bags and pretend you’re a tiny person in a teacup. You can also apply used tea bags directly to the sunburn, but be sure to do it after the bag has cooled to at least room temperature – the last thing a burn needs is more heat.
If your sunburn has left you in a lot of pain, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen (Advil.) The anti-inflammatory will relieve pain and may reduce redness.
It seems like every health article I write says this, but I will say it again: drink lots of water. Your body needs the extra fluids to hydrate the burned skin and regenerate new skin. Plus, you may already be dehydrated from your day in the sun, so drink up. The cool water will help you deal with the heat coming off of your skin.
Once your sunburn is no longer emitting heat, it is important to moisturize often to prevent peeling. Use a simple, fragrance-free lotion like Aveeno to hydrate skin. Aveeno is made with oatmeal, another ingredient that helps soothe sunburns and other skin irritations. You can bathe in oatmeal if you prefer, adding two cups of oatmeal to a bath or using oatmeal bath products.
Now that you have the tan lines of whatever you happened to be wearing, you’ll need to find a way to even it out. The answer is NOT to apply sunscreen to your burn and go back in the sun – have you already forgotten the pain of the first sunburn? Grab some self-tanner and apply it to your pale parts so that as your burn fades into a tan, it will match. If you need to cover up tan lines quickly for a big event, use bronzer to fill in the pasty lines and even out your skin tone. It won’t be an exact match, but the different skin colors will be much less noticeable in photos with a swipe of the golden body powder.
As always, prevention is the best cure for a sunburn. No matter what you plan to do each day, apply sunscreen just in case you end up outside. Keep a small bottle of SPF 40 in your purse or car so it is always accessible. If the pain of your last sunburn and the threat of skin cancer isn’t enough to convince you to protect yourself, just look back at old photos of yourself with a sunburn and awkward tan lines. It’s not worth repeating.