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Overcooked it? How to Avoid and Treat Sunburn

We’ve all been there.

Had a few too many shandies in the beer garden without any suncream. Or tatting about in the garden without realising “the sun was that strong?!” or, if you’re me, burning your buoyant butt whilst spending a few hours snorkelling.

However you did it, the pink noses, raw chests, burnt scalps and white lines stark against the hot, pink, sore flesh is not a great look.

Not only is it not pleasant, but sunburn is actually pretty dangerous. Luckily, avoiding and treating it is pretty simple. Read on to find out more.

What is sunburn?

Sunburn is skin damage.

Basically, when the skin is overexposed to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation the result is sunburn.

When the skin is exposed to UV radiation, the body's natural defence is to increase melanin production. Melanin is the pigment in the skin responsible for giving the skin its tanned colour. When exposure to radiation is excessive or prolonged, melanin production isn’t able to protect the skin sufficiently, leading to sunburn.

Sunburn results in the skin becoming red, tender, and inflamed. In more severe cases, it may also cause blistering, peeling, and itching. It usually develops within a few hours of excessive sun exposure and tends to reach its peak within 24 to 72 hours.

It's important to note that sunburn is not just a temporary condition. Over time, repeated sunburns can cause long-term damage to the skin, including premature ageing, wrinkles, and worse…an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

What are the three best ways to avoid sunburn?

Fortunately, avoiding self-inflicted skin damage is pretty straightforward.

There are three simple, cheap steps you can take to not only reduce your risk of skin cancer but to help prevent premature ageing are:

Apply a broad spectrum SPF 30+ daily

Sunscreen is a crucial tool for protecting your skin from the harmful effects of the sun's UV radiation.

Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays and has a high SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 or above. Apply sunscreen generously to all exposed skin at least 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every two hours, or more frequently if you are swimming or sweating.

Seek shade

Baking yourself in the sun is…well…dumb.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to avoid sunburn is to seek shade, especially during the peak hours when the sun's rays are the strongest (usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).

Shade can provide a physical barrier between your skin and the sun, reducing your exposure to harmful UV radiation, so reducing the risk of skin cancer and helping keep your skin healthy and more youthful.

Cover up

As soon as the sun is out, the legs come out, the strappy top goes on and we Brits tend to try to get as much of our bodies in the sun as is socially acceptable!

But if you want to be sunsafe, that's not the way to do things.

Loose, long sleeves. Wide-brimmed hats. Loose, cool skirts & trousers all add an important layer of UV protection. Lightweight, tightly woven fabrics that cover your arms, legs, and other sun-exposed areas make it really easy to be safe AND comfortable in the sun.Not forgetting sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.

It's boring, but you should be doing these things consistently, not just on sunny days. UV rays can penetrate clouds and cause sunburn even on overcast my photo above proves. Annoying, but true!

What's the best way to treat sunburn?

Even the most diligent of sun-avoiders slip up. So what’s the best way to sort your skin if you’ve overdone it in the sun?

Here are some ways you can alleviate the pain and discomfort of sunburn and help your skin heal more quickly.

  1. Get out of the sun: As soon as you notice your skin is burning, get out of the sun. Further exposure to the sun can worsen the burn and prolong the healing process.
  2. Cool down: Take a cool (not cold) shower or bath, or apply cool compresses (not direct ice) to the sunburned skin. This can help reduce the heat in the skin and reduce inflammation.
  3. Hydrate: Sunburn draws moisture from the skin, so it's crucial to rehydrate your body. Drink plenty of water and use moisturisers that contain aloe vera or other soothing ingredients to help replenish moisture in the skin.
  4. Medicate: Ibuprofen or aspirin can help reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling associated with sunburn.
  5. Sooth: After the initial cooling, you can apply a gentle, fragrance-free moisturiser or aloe vera gel to the sunburned skin. Avoid using petroleum-based products or heavy creams, as they can trap heat and prevent the skin from healing.
  6. Let it be: If your sunburn causes blisters or you peel, it's important not to pop, burst or peel. Blisters act as a protective barrier and help the skin heal. Let them do their thing.

If your sunburn is severe, covers a large area of your body, or is accompanied by symptoms like fever, chills, severe pain, or signs of infection, you need to see a medical professional. They can provide appropriate treatment and guidance based on the severity of your sunburn.

What should I apply to sunburned skin?

When it comes to applying products to sunburned skin, it's important to focus on soothing and moisturising the affected area. Here are some options:

  • Aloe vera gel: Aloe vera has natural cooling and anti-inflammatory properties that can help alleviate the discomfort of sunburn. Apply a pure aloe vera gel or a gel that contains a high concentration of aloe vera to the sunburned skin. Avoid products with added colours, fragrances, or alcohol, as they can further irritate the skin.
  • Moisturisers: Look for gentle, fragrance-free moisturisers or lotions that contain ingredients like ceramides and hyaluronic acid. These can help replenish moisture in the skin and prevent it from becoming excessively dry. Apply the moisturiser gently to the sunburned skin, avoiding any areas with blisters or open wounds.
  • Hydrocortisone cream: Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream may help reduce inflammation and itching associated with sunburn. Apply it sparingly three times a day, for three days, to the affected areas, following the instructions on the packaging. Avoid using hydrocortisone cream on children without consulting a healthcare professional.
  • Cold compresses: Applying cool compresses or damp towels to the sunburned skin can help provide immediate relief. Soak a clean cloth in cool water, wring it out gently, and apply it to the affected area for 15-20 minutes. Repeat this process several times a day as needed.
  • Oatmeal baths: Taking a cool bath with colloidal oatmeal (finely ground oats) can soothe sunburned skin. Oatmeal has anti-inflammatory properties and can help relieve itching. Add colloidal oatmeal to cool bathwater and soak in it for 15-20 minutes. Afterward, gently pat your skin dry and apply moisturiser.

For added relief, put moisturisers and creams in the fridge before use.

It's important to note that everyone's skin is different, and what works for one person may not work the same way for another. If you experience any discomfort, irritation, or worsening of symptoms after applying a product, discontinue its use and consult a healthcare professional for further advice.

What are the long term dangers of sunburn?

Experiencing sunburns repeatedly over time can have long-term consequences and increase the risk of various health issues. Here are some of the long-term dangers associated with sunburn:

Skin cancer

One of the most obvious and significant risks of sunburn is an increased likelihood of developing skin cancer. Prolonged or excessive exposure to UV radiation damages the DNA in skin cells, leading to genetic mutations that can trigger the development of skin cancers, including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. People with a history of severe sunburns, especially during childhood, are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

Premature ageing

Sunburns can contribute to premature ageing of the skin. UV radiation damages the elastin fibres in the skin. Elastin gives skin it’s elasticity. Damaged elastin due to chronic sun exposure can lead to wrinkles, fine lines, age spots, and a leathery texture.

Weakened immune system

Overexposure to UV radiation may suppress proper functioning of the body’s immune system and the skin’s natural defences, increasing sensitivity to sunlight and reducing the effects of immunizations or causing reactions to certain medications.

Eye damage

Sunburned eyes, also known as photokeratitis or snow blindness, can occur when the eyes are exposed to intense UV radiation. This condition can cause temporary vision loss, eye pain, redness, and sensitivity to light. Long-term exposure to UV radiation without proper eye protection can also increase the risk of cataracts, macular degeneration, and other eye-related conditions.

Sun sensitivity and allergies

Sunburns can make the skin more sensitive to sunlight, resulting in a condition called photosensitivity. Photosensitivity can lead to rashes, hives, and other allergic reactions when the skin is exposed to the sun. Certain medications, such as some antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can also increase photosensitivity.

To minimise the long-term dangers of sunburn, it's crucial to protect your skin from excessive sun exposure. This includes practising sun safety measures such as wearing protective clothing and sunglasses, applying a broad spectrum SPF30+ daily, seeking shade, and avoiding the sun during peak hours.

If you have existing sun damage you'd like to improve, or you'd like help finding a skincare routine that can help protect your skin each day against photoageing and UV damage, why not book a skincare consultation with a Glowday skin pro at

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