Preventing a sunburn
The best way to protect yourself, says Kalia, is to avoid the sun, especially during peak hours-10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you have to go outdoors, seek shaded areas and cover up with a hat and clothing that covers as much of your body as possible. Thirty minutes prior to sun exposure, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen; the Canadian Dermatology Association recommends sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more often if you are swimming or sweating. If your skin starts to redden or feel tender, go indoors or find shade at once.
When to go to the doctor
You should get urgent medical attention if the sunburn is blistering or is accompanied by fever, nausea, chills, confusion, dizziness, fainting, rapid pulse, rapid breathing or extreme pain, which could be signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. A severe sunburn can lead to second-degree burns, dehydration, shock or even death. Seek treatment if a burn shows signs of a bacterial infection (yellow pus draining from open blisters, or red streaks leading away from open blisters, or increasing pain and swelling) or if it does not improve after two or three days. Your doctor may prescribe a topical steroid or an oral or topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to reduce inflammation, swelling, pain and itching.
Drugstore sunburn remedies
Examples of Drugstore remedies: Solarcaine Medicated First Aid Lotion; Advil Tablets; Cortoderm Hydrocortisone Ointment 0.5%; Tylenol Regular Strength; Vaseline Original Petroleum Jelly
How they work: “Tylenol or Advil can help with the pain of a sunburn,” says Bonertz, “but Advil may be more effective because it also helps reduce inflammation.” It contains ibuprofen, an NSAID that prevents cells from releasing the prostaglandin compounds that cause pain and inflammation; Tylenol features acetaminophen, which lowers the brain’s perception of pain. “I also encourage the use of a bland, soothing ointment such as Vaseline petroleum jelly after the skin has cooled down, which helps the skin heal with less chance of scarring,” adds Kalia. Topical hydrocortisone, available over the counter in up to a 0.5 percent concentration, is a steroid that may reduce swelling, pain and itching (which occurs as the skin heals). The menthol and camphor in Solarcaine can also be soothing and relieve itchiness; the lotion also contains lidocaine, a local anesthetic that can be effective at temporarily reducing pain if applied over a small area (but some people may be allergic to it).
Need to know: Follow package directions when taking Advil and Tylenol, which will start to reduce pain (and in the case of Advil, inflammation) after about 30 minutes. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking them if you are pregnant or breastfeeding; are taking another medication; or have high blood pressure, a stomach issue such as ulcers, or a heart, liver or kidney condition. Apply a thin layer of topical ointments such as Cortiderm or Solarcaine three or four times daily, but never on broken skin.