Whilst the majority of us have the best intentions when it comes to sun safety, there are still many people who simply don’t get the message. Whether ultra violet exposure is accidental, incidental or on purpose, sunburn and tanning are the first signs of skin damage and ageing.

So what exactly is sunburn and how do we effectively treat it without creating further skin damage?

Believe it or not, sunburn is a radiation burn that results from exposure to UVB rays. As the rays penetrate the superficial layers of the epidermis, the skin becomes red, hot, sore, swollen and in worst case scenario – blistered. Sunburn can also affect other parts of the body, creating fatigue, dizziness and nausea. These are precursor signs of sunstroke, a condition where the body is unable to regulate increasing systemic temperature.

Like any burn, there are various degrees of severity. In case of blistering (signs of a second degree burn) or sunstroke, seek immediate medical attention, especially for children and senior citizens.

Whether you forgot to re-apply sunscreen or didn’t wear any at all, here are some dos and don’ts to correctly prevent and treat the signs and symptoms of sunburn.
  • DON’T continue unprotected sun exposure. As soon as your skin starts to appear pink, feels super-hot or becomes sore and itchy, take immediate action and get out of the sun. Applying more sunscreen is unlikely to assist the situation as the damage has already been done. DO cover up with a hat, sunglasses and long sleeves and DO get out of direct sun exposure into a shaded or protected area.
  • DON’T apply oil to the skin to accelerate tanning. Similarly to basting a roasting chook, oil accelerates skin burning and damage. The only safe tan is a fake tan. Be wary of what you apply to your skin before stepping out under the rays. Body oils, lotions and moisturisers that don’t contain an SPF will all act as a catalyst to accelerate the burning process. DO apply face and body moisturisers that contain a minimum SPF rating of 15+ every day to exposed skin. Why not try Skinstitut Age Defence SPF 50 (best for dry skin), Aspect Envirostat Dry Touch (for a matte and weightless coverage) or ASAP Moisturising Daily Defence SPF 50 (for a dual sunscreen and moisturiser in one).
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  • DON’T apply fake tan before going out into the sun. Most fake tans do not contain an SPF, so should not be confused with sunscreen. Fake tan will offer no UV protection. As the faux-tanning agents develop, so will the risk of skin burning. DO look for multitasking products which contain gradual tanning agents, moisturisers and an all-important SPF rating above 15.
  • DON’T apply oil-based products to sunburnt skin. There is a misconception that applying oil or rich moisturisers to sunburnt skin will offer soothing and calming results. Nothing could be further from the truth with these products. The oil and occlusive ingredients actually trap the heat into the skin, increasing the level of burn and subsequent damage. DO apply a water based gel (such as ASAP Soothing Gel or Skinstitut Laser Aid) immediately to burnt skin and keep re-applying every 2 hours. To further reduce heat, DO keep cooling gels in the fridge to further reduce inflammation.
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  • DON’T have a hot shower, bath or spa. As the sunstroke giddiness takes over, it can be tempting to prolong the relaxed sensation by taking a plunge into warm water. Similarly to oil-based products, this traps heat into the skin and creates further skin damage. DO treat sunburn like a standard burn, cooling and reducing the temperature. Try a lukewarm to cold shower for at least 10 minutes or apply cold compresses to areas of exposure.
  • DON’T pick at flaking skin or pop blisters. As the skin tries to repair and renew itself, blisters will appear reasonably fast, followed by flaking 2-3 days later. Both of these signs indicate the destruction of healthy cells sitting deeper in the epidermis. Popping blisters or peeling flaking skin will increase the risk of scar tissue formation and prolonging the natural repair response.
DON’T re-expose sunburnt skin. As frustrating it may be, especially if you are on holiday, don’t think a quick application of sunscreen will suddenly reverse existing sunburn and allow you to become safely re-exposed. DO stay in the shade and out of direct sun exposure for the next couple of days. Once redness, heat, flaking and blisters have subsided, then you can safely return (on the condition you are wearing your SPF).
DO reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, especially when swimming or sweating. The effects of sunscreen can easily be washed or wiped off. Even if the product claims to be water-resistant, get into the habit of reapplying SPF every couple of hours. This is especially when at the beach, driving in a convertible, heading out for a walk or working out under the sun.
Whilst the only option that blocks out 100% of rays is hiding in a cave, become more vigilant and protect yourself by following the old adage:

SLIP on a shirt, SLOP on sunscreen, SLAP on a hat, SEEK shade and SLIDE on sunnies.

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to treating sunburn.
By: Andrew R. Christie
Beauty & Skin Industry Specialist