Sunburn is one of those unfortunate reminders that no pleasure in this life is without pain -- oh, you want to enjoy this beautiful sunny day? Your indulgence will be punished with a week of fiery skin.
In an effort to give the middle finger to nature, you apply and reapply and re-reapply your lotion, but the sun has a pesky habit of sticking around. Like, forever. Sadly, when you get a sunburn, you can't undo it. But there are ways to relieve the pain -- these are the best ones.
Take cold showers, but don't apply ice directly to the skin
Cold showers are good for dampening sexual feelings AND the pain of sunburn. Dermatologist Mary Lee Amerian, MD, says that as soon as you realize you're rocking a burn, jump in a cold shower or bath, fast. Don't linger in there (she says just a few seconds will work), but you can use cold compresses afterwards to help cool the burn. Don't apply ice directly to your bright-red skin, however, as this can screw you up even worse -- make sure there's a buffer between whatever icy source you're using and your skin.
Moisturize (with the right stuff)
Dr. Amerian also suggests using a gentle moisturizer while your skin is still damp, but it's important to pick the right moisturizer: "Don't use petroleum- or oil-based ointments, which may trap the heat and make the burn worse." Ouch. Over the next few days, keep yourself lubed up, but leave the Vaseline buried in the back of the medicine cabinet, where it belongs. Moisturizing won't just cool down the burn, but will help prevent peeling.
Find some high-quality shea butter
One suggestion for an especially potent sunburn moisturizer comes from Dr. Ernest Brown, founder of Doctors To You: shea butter. "In addition to moisturizing the skin (which helps to reduce infection), shea butter is packed with nutrients and vitamins that increase its healing properties. The best shea butter products are sustainably sourced from Africa and unrefined."
Pop some pills or rub some cream on it
Over-the-counter medicine can help with some of the persistent pain that comes with sunburns. You've heard, "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning," right? Well, it turns out that this isn't bad advice when you've been roasted like a lobster, according to Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD. "Take an anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen or aspirin, immediately and repeat every six hours to help reduce the pain and redness." She also recommends eating something before sloshing down the meds because they can wreck your stomach.
There's also evidence that topical steroids, which are widely available at drugstores, can provide relief for sunburn symptoms. So if you're in particularly bad shape, look for a 1% hydrocortisone cream or lotion -- even better if it contains aloe vera, which can help soothe the skin.
No beers, sorry. Instead, the recommendation is all water, all the time, because sunburn dehydrates you. As Delphine J. Lee, MD, PhD, dermatologist, and director of the Dirks/Dougherty Laboratory for Cancer Research and Department of Translational Immunology at John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA, explains, "The sunburn draws fluid to the skin surface and away from the rest of the body," which is a recipe for disaster. Not only are you suffering from a sunburn, but you're drying up inside, which can escalate to a serious medical issue. So, while this doesn't erase your life's mistakes, it can help stave off an even bigger world of hurt.
Also, you should note that some drinks are definitely bad for you while recovering from a sunburn. Dr. Carl Thornfeldt, dermatologist and founder of Epionce Skincare, warns, "Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which are pro-inflammatory." Bummer, especially since they dehydrate you, too.
Improvise with the contents of your fridge
You can apply compresses of cold water, sure, but why not rifle through your fridge to see what else you can work with? Dr. Dendy Engelman, dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, says that you can fashion cold compresses out of way cooler stuff than water, including milk, cucumbers, or even yogurt. She also suggests getting out that bag of frozen peas that you'll never eat and giving those a go, too.
Get the hell out of the sun
No surprises here, but some people need to be told the obvious -- additional ultraviolet light exposure will continue to burn you, according to Dr. Lee. It also feels absolutely terrible. She says, "With any sunburn, you should avoid the sun while your skin heals. Be sure to cover the sunburn every time you are outdoors."
Of course, prevention is the key. So next time, lather your ass (and everything else) up with sunscreen, and don't forget to reapply after a couple of hours because you'll probably sweat it all off. Even the water-resistant stuff doesn't last forever.
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