Get too much sun over Christmas? Here’s how to ease red and itchy sunburn


Did you get a bit too much sun on Boxing Day and now find yourself looking for a quick fix to your redness?

Most Australians have been caught out by the sting of sunburn at some point in their lives.

Sunburn is caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation — an invisible threat to your skin that's still there on cloudy days and in snowy areas.

Some skin types can burn within 10 minutes of being unprotected in the sun, although prevention is something everyone should do.

But what happens when it's too late and you've woken up looking like a lobster?

How long does it take sunburn to heal?

Cosmetic chemist Dr Michelle Wong from Lab Muffin Beauty Science says how long it takes for sunburn to heal depends on the depth of the sunburn or its intensity.

"What happens when you get a sunburn is that your skin cells have been damaged and a lot of them will die," Dr Wong says.

"That means your body just has to go through the process of processing them and getting rid of them and having that inflammation die down.

"Sometimes people don't' realise that even slight reddening of the skin is still a sunburn — that sort of thing might go away in a day.

"Whereas if you have a really intense sunburn that has blisters, then that's going to take a lot longer."

The more intense the sunburn, the longer it will take to heal.(AAP)

But sunburn doesn't just cause redness, pain and peeling — it damages the DNA in your skin cells.

Chris McMillan, chief executive of Cancer Council Queensland, says it can take just one really severe sunburn to trigger that reaction.

"The ultraviolet rays, they actually penetrate the skin and that then causes that reaction of damaging the DNA in your skin cells," Ms McMillan says.

"It causes premature ageing and then can cause skin cancer in later years."

How do you stop itchy sunburn?

Dr Wong says hydrating the skin with a light moisturiser can help stop sunburn from itching, which is caused by the dryness and tightness of the skin.

But check the label for ingredients before you apply.

"I'd recommend a moisturiser that has glycerine in it," she says.

"Glycerine is a humectant; it draws water into the skin but it doesn't form a film on the skin so it won't interfere with trapping heat or anything like that.

"You can also look for anti-inflammatory ingredients like oatmeal extract, niacinamide — those are two big ones."

Itchy sunburn is caused by the dryness and tightness of the skin.(ABC: Catherine Heuzenroeder)

Just don't put on too much moisturiser as that can trap the heat in your skin, Dr Wong says.

Similarly cocoa butter can form a film on the skin that can potentially trap heat.

If you have really bad sunburn, Dr Wong says, you should see a doctor and see if they can give you a steroid cream.

"You can also take some ibuprofen, which will be anti-inflammatory, and that can help with swelling and any of the redness that might be on your skin," Dr Wong says.

Does aloe vera help sunburn? Dr Wong says using an aloe vera leaf directly on sunburn can irritate the skin.(Unsplash: Pisauikan)

Aloe vera is commonly recommended as a treatment to soothe sunburn, but Dr Wong warns there's a lot of inconsistencies with the plant extract.

"Sometimes the inner leaf actually has some irritants, so if you just grab some aloe vera from the garden and put it on your skin, sometimes that can risk making it worse," she says.

Dr Wong says it might be better to use a product that contains aloe vera.

"They might be a bit more careful about making sure it's the right extract but I don't think that's a guarantee."

Should you use essential oils on sunburn?

Some essential oils are marketed as a way to reduce the symptoms of sunburn and heal the skin, but Dr Wong says they can be harmful.

"Essential oils are commonly irritants and their effects on skin are not very potent," Dr Wong says.

"It's a big risk with little return.

"I would avoid using essential oils, and definitely not use undiluted essential oils."

Essential oils is the umbrella term for oils made from plant extracts.(Unsplash: Christin Hume)When should you get a skin cancer check?

Ms McMillan from Cancer Council Queensland says getting a skin cancer check is something you should work into your routine of visiting a doctor.

She says it's also important to know your own skin and check it regularly.

"Look for any new or changing shape, size, colour, thickness of any areas of your skin," Ms McMillan says.

"It doesn't always have to be a dark-coloured mole that is a suspicious thing — it could be something that's a small pink lump.

"It could be something simple, it's a lesion that hasn't healed properly over, you know, a month, six weeks or so; again that could be the start of the skin cancer."

It's important to get your skin checked regularly.(Facebook: Mates Against Melanoma)How can you protect your skin from sunburn?

Dr Wong says to protect your skin from sunburn, make sure you use a high-SPF sunscreen and reapply every two hours.

"Don't just rely on sunscreen, maybe also wear long-sleeved shirts or a hat or try to stay in the shade when possible," she says.

"Also avoid being out in the sun during the highest UV parts of the day.

"Check the UV index during the day as well because even though it's cloudy, sometimes there can still be a lot of UV around."

Think your dark skin protects you from the sun? Think again

A common and pervasive misconception is that dark-skinned people don't need sunscreen. Here's why that's not true.

Read more

Ms McMillan says it's important you apply enough sunscreen and that it hasn't expired.

"Check the date of them because they are just like any medication, there are expiry dates where the actual potency of the product or the effectiveness of the product reduces over time," Ms McMillan says.

"Just be mindful to check that because you may well be putting sunscreen on but it might have expired a year ago."

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news



Recent Posts