What to do when you're accidentally sunburnt

No one enjoys getting sunburnt, and very few people intentionally bake in the sun (or, at least, you shouldn’t). But sometimes the sun catches you unprepared and sunburn happens. There’s no reversing the damage, but there are a few things you can do to help your skin and body recover faster.

Here is what to do if you accidentally get too much sun.

accidentally sunburnt

But first – what does sunburn actually do to your skin? When the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation penetrates the skin, the dermis becomes inflamed, red, itchy and dehydrated, and can start to peel off. Sun exposure and sunburn can lead to premature skin ageing and life-threatening skin cancers.

Just five bad sunburns increases your risk of deadly skin cancers by 80 per cent.

Sunburn doesn’t always look red and peeling though. It can be experienced as a brown tan or as a waxy feeling, with rough skin texture and even acne breakouts.

If sunburn happens to you, here’s what to do.

1. Take a cool shower

Enjoy a soothing, cool shower and pat your skin dry. Rubbing sunburn will make it worse.

2. Stay hydrated

Drink more water than you usually do to ensure you stay properly hydrated.

3. Avoid certain skincare products

If you use peels, anti-ageing serums or exfoliants, stop using these products until your sunburn heals. Also avoid products that make your skin more sensitive to the sun, such as topical retinoids, hydroxy acids and some fragrances.

4. Apply topical aids

Apply a cream or serum rich in vitamins B3, C or E, or other cooling ingredients such as aloe vera, cucumber or menthol. (Growing an aloe vera plant in your garden can be great for times like this!)

5. Moisturise

As long as your skin isn’t peeling or broken, use a soothing moisturiser after your shower to restore some nourishment back into your skin.

6. Find a new sunscreen

If you got sunburnt while wearing sunscreen as directed on the label, it’s time to find a more effective product. Choose a broad-spectrum, SPF50+ sunscreen and wear it every day. Remember to read the instructions carefully and re-apply every two hours (or more if you’re sweating or swimming) for the product to work properly. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your ears, the backs of your arms and legs, and your hands.

Read last week's blog on how to understand sunscreen labels.

7. Avoid the sun

While recovering from sunburn, avoid adding any more UV exposure to your already damaged skin cells. Stay out of the sun completely until your skin heals and then be extra careful about protecting yourself when you do return to normal outdoor activities.

8. Be sun safe – always!

Sunburnt or not, it’s essential to stay sun safe. Include sunscreen as part of your everyday skincare routine; wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and long sleeves when spending time in the sun; and seek shade whenever you can.